GW2: Heart of Thorns Day 1 Impressions

Like Abott and Costello...

If we measure success by the sheer number of things that one could do, without doubt, GW2’s Heart of Thorns expansion is an unmitigated success.

One look down the achievements list (sorry Bhagpuss, it’s still here), the collections tab, the new masteries, the legendary precursor sections, the Heart of Thorns zones, the Heart of Thorns story chapters, the new guild initiatives, and oh, there were elite specializations and a new revenant profession, wasn’t there? (haven’t had time to even progress on any of those.)

Not to mention, all things WvW and PvP related that I haven’t even glanced at.

Oh, did we mention Halloween is in full swing in Lion’s Arch, so you -could- also be grinding out limited time festival goodies for shiny skins if so prioritized?

Drooburt up to his old ways in the afterlife.
Drooburt is still up to his old ways in the afterlife.

If we measure success by server stability and lack of game breaking bugs or everybody-can’t-login-or-play crashes, ArenaNet completely blows the competition out of the water on this one.

So far, most of the problems I’ve been hearing about are related to people being impatient and jumping straight into the game once it’s downloaded past the “playable” mark, and then charging headlong into a new zone or a story chapter where the content hasn’t fully downloaded yet – whereupon it either pauses/hangs or unceremoniously crashes the player out.

Duh.

I was patient (albeit in a knuckle gnawing, restlessly listening to others on Teamspeak, “I think I shall go and have some lunch while I wait for the full download” manner) and downloaded to 100% before logging in, and the whole experience for me has been silky smooth and perfect.

The servers are holding up in a remarkably rock solid manner, considering that my online friends list that usually is about half a page of people online stretched out to about 2.5-3 pages of people all online and checking out the shiny.

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Impressions?

The jungle feels a lot better than I thought it would be.

One thing that’s definitely helping is the music. I turned it back up from silent to appreciate the new scores and wow, the one on the character loading screen has to be heard to be believed.

Everything has a new coat of HoT shiny. The launcher now features a green tinted charr (Rytlock?); the character selection screen looks super-dramatic and shows off more helpful information, including which crafting professions are on which character.

The new HoT zones feel better when they’re all interconnected in one giant three-tiered map that goes from treetop canopy to roots, as opposed to one tiny section on reveal during beta. The former feels expansive and freeing, the latter felt small and cramped.

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The fun of a launch zerg – an event turns into an impromptu sniper rifle shooting gallery.

Add on some good accompanying background music, a little mob clutter, some NPCs (though some of them are chattering away at a slightly abnormal cranked up pace) and they become zones that seem worth exploring.

It also seems to me that they may have populated the floor with more jungle plant entities, which helps the atmosphere greatly (though I have no idea if this is an issue for older, slightly less updated computers now. The ‘perils’ of enjoying a new-ish rig.)

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I need to find the time to figure out what this says… It appears to be some wreckage from the Pact fleet.

The story feels promising.

I just passed chapter 7 – Personal Possessions (which made me rage quite a bit, I’ll tell you, frickin’ latency and zephyrite-ish jumping puzzles = most of the drama and pacing taken out by multiple fall/deaths to the point where one was running as essentially naked charr), which properly segues us into the next zone past Verdant Brink, Auric Basin.

Given that there are two more zones past Auric Basin, and that I’ve only uncovered about three-quarters of the Verdant Brink map and definitely not touched a great many events and mastery points and adventures in VB itself, there appears to be a sizeable chunk of content on offer.

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I’m trying to avoid major spoilers, but I suppose by now, most people do know there’s a city of gold somewhere in the jungle with some strange things called the Exalted. (End of minor spoiler.)

It’s the chapter before that lets us meet some old friends and has significant plot movement.

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It’s amazing how many people have rushed past the story and into just wandering about the new zones though.

I would have really appreciated some alone time playing through all the story chapters, but I knew one of my guilds was looking to claim a guild hall ASAP, so most of yesterday was spent with Teamspeak voices in the background, doing my best to power through some masteries while waiting for the expedition so that I wouldn’t miss the essentially one-off event.

Turns out that one was still lacking an Exalted mastery to get past a gate, but fortunately, there are mesmers to help guildies skip through that part, and I managed to zone into the instance.

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Wasn’t too bad. It definitely needed some communication and cooperation, along the lines of “split up your zerg, you morons.”

Whatever messaging system the devs were using for cues and instructions -needs- to be used and repeated in future zone events and even raids, imo. The pop up message was concise and offered feedback of the direct “shove it down your throat” kind – you failed this, this consequence now happens. Try doing X instead.

Given the mess of 40+ players running around, whose first impulse tends to be “follow the other yellow dots and commander tag,” the direct messaging was very helpful.

It took a bit of turning like an oil tanker (and one failure phase, but not failed in its entirety) for the group to learn and figure out what it had to do, but it was done in the end.

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Oh, speaking of other guild changes, the yellow dots are an interesting touch.

Some people don’t like it, but I’m fairly neutral about it. I kind of like that it makes me feel a bit more interconnected with the other people in the guild, in that I can see their names repeated in my daily game encounters (leading to a sense of familiarity) and at a glance, you can also see if there are any fun congregations of group activity going on in certain zones.

The multiple guild chat channels, though. FREAKING GODSEND. ABOUT TIME. HOW DID WE PLAY THREE YEARS WITHOUT THIS.

That one change makes my chat window suddenly worth looking at and reading, rather than mostly ignoring.

Makes the whole place feel a lot more lively and social now.

(And I don’t even talk much. Just listen to the chatty ones mostly.)

My one criticism of the Heart of Thorns expansion?

The 6 new stats sets being introduced.

Apparently, even though we are not having any increase in item gear rarity ever (so sayeth Colin), someone has figured out a clever little workaround and decided that they can get away with putting two primary stats and two secondary stats on new gear, as opposed to the one primary and two secondaries of old.

Um, are we power-creeping a little here? Did we just obsolete the desirability of things like Berserker or Sinister because now everyone should want one of the newer stat combinations for that secondary stat bonus now?

Not sure. I haven’t looked at the actual numbers to compare yet, but I’m sure someone will be doing those calculations sooner rather than later.

And then we shall see if there was any attempt at equivalency or just an outright “this gear is better, by X%”.

In the meantime, there are masteries and lots of candy corn to chase.

And I suppose I should make that revenant some day. (I’m in not that much hurry, I don’t think the asura name I have in mind will be grabbed any time soon.)

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GW2: Loyalty to the Legion (A Short Story)

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's...Samurai Charr!

Warning: I tried to write a short origin story around a screenshot of my lowbie engineer, Flame Fireflash, whom I splurged two transmutation charges on to revive my leveling interest, and it ended up stretching to 6000 words and killed gaming time for several days.

Long-winded, that’s me. Contains some vulgarity and one rather oblique reference to the r-word, but nothing of that ilk ever occurs in the story. No sex, but maybe some corny plot and phrases. Also furries. As in charr.

When I was a cub, I never liked fighting.

The others in the fahrar would grapple and tumble, snarling and growling in what seemed like mock fighting to adults, but was actually a deadly serious bid for hierarchy and respect… amongst their peers, anyway.

“Grawl feet! Grawl feet!” They’d chant as they adopted the hopping ape pose and pranced around me in a circle, hoping to get some sort of reaction.

I’d do my best to ignore them as I flipped through my schematics book or took apart some device with the big paws they were referring to.

They’d move on to fake whispers between each other like “I don’t think she’s a charr, -I- think a Norn got drunk and stuck in between a Bear and Leopard form!” or “She can’t be Ash, she’s as dull as Iron.”

The decidedly less creative ones would struggle a bit, then come up with witticisms like “Dumb ogre” or “Flame’s Flame!”

I’ll never know what possessed my mother when she decided to name me with the Gold Legion’s appellation, but I was the one who had to live with it.

Funny thing was, if they finally got too annoying or some idiot decided to lay a paw on my stuff and provoke me into standing up, they’d all quickly back off a step or two and glance towards their ring leader.

That was the cub I would stomp towards and grab.

I don’t know if it was just my parents’ genes or if my mother’s mission and birthing in the field delayed her in getting me to a fahrar, but I do know that I was very big for my age. Still am, even decades later.

He or she would spit and snarl and claw and bite, but I was taller and outweighed any of them. I’d use that leverage to my advantage, remembering as much of our teachers’ lessons as I could, and eventually, some scrapes and ripped fur and toothmarks later, the ring leader would be pinned down under my four paws or I’d be sitting on their head or something like that.

Most of the time, that would be the end of it.

If two or three moved at once, I’d toss an insult in their faces about being too scared to take me one on one, which usually stopped them in their tracks, or at least got them to try their luck one at a time. It never did work out for them.

After that, they’d leave me alone for a while and I’d be careful to spend more time around adults until their short attention spans found another target or they got riled up amongst themselves by someone squabbling for a higher position in the gang.

It wasn’t too hard because I found the defensive perimeter turrets and mortars fascinating and would always ask any soldier willing to humor me a million and one questions about how it all worked – loading the ammo, differences between the ammo types and when you used each, calibration, tuning and maintenance and so on. As I said, I looked old for my age, so many gave me more measured and considered answers than they might have for any random youngling.

The problem was Rakis.

Rakis had a mean streak in him wider than a marmox, and an ego far larger than you’d think his slim and small frame could accommodate. He somehow took it personal when I flipped him over during one of his attempted bully sessions and got his horns stuck inches deep in muddy snow. His buddies had to dig him out while he was flopping about and squealing like a slaughtered piglet and he never quite got over the humiliation.

He didn’t dare face me head on for years after that, but I was aware that he’d started treating everything we did in the fahrar as a competition between the two of us.

He’d race to raise his hand and answer a question first, and on the off chance that he managed to get it right, he’d shoot me some kind of triumphant look like he was trying to make a point.

While we were training with the guest scouts and stalkers, he’d swagger around with a happy smirk when he always arrived faster than me, which wasn’t hard at all since I had to take special care of where I placed my big feet and bulk in order to stay as silent as Ash Legion expects of its future operations groups.

It was all ridiculously weird because I certainly wasn’t the least bit interested in this imaginary competition that only existed in his head. The more I ignored it, the more he seemed to think that it was on, always sneaking glances when he thought I wasn’t looking, bragging loudly to his friends, or conversely, sulking if I scored better marks on any test, be it marksmanship or chemistry or tech devices.

When we were teenagers, I recall a casual acquaintance jokingly ask me if Rakis was sweet on me. I sighed and told her it’d been going on for years and I was still trying to figure out myself if it was a crush or a rivalry. She laughed, I laughed, then forgot about it.

In hindsight, that was a mistake.

You see, I didn’t cultivate any really close friendships in the fahrar, but I did try to stay on civil terms with everybody that allowed it, since after all, we were all going to be in the same warband. As one of our mentors told us gruffly, you don’t have to like or be pals with all your bandmates, just learn to work together and trust that you’ll have each others’ backs when the bullets start flying. Which was how I assumed things would be. It’s our tradition, after all.

I should have maybe listened more intently to the brief conversations I had with our veteran spies, all grizzled and scarred. “In our line of work, you can’t trust anybody, cub. Don’t ever let down your guard.” They didn’t get to their age by being foolish and stupid. They were survivors.

Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

It wasn’t a rivalry, or a crush. It was a grudge.

A grudge Rakis’d had nursed within his black heart for ages until he finally worked up the courage and found the right opportunity.

It was our seventeenth year in the fahrar, and the night before a very important term project was due. Scoring a good grade would help get you into the first pick, those promising recruits that the better soldiers – craftsmen and artisans of their art, be it assassination or reconnaissance, scouting or sniping, traps or turrets – wanted to mentor and groom. Flunk it, and you’d be left in the bottom ranks and assigned the grunt work that nobody else in the warband wanted.

I was up past midnight in one of the workshops, determined to synthesize better and better variants of the chemical glue that was going to be submitted along with my lab report and improved valve release mechanism for a portable glue turret model that Ash scouts favored.

And I was alone. Absorbed in my thoughts and the steady bubbling of my experiments.

I didn’t hear them come in.

Something or someone landed a heavy blow on my head, sending me snout first into the lab bench, and clawed hands grabbed my arms.

Reacting with more instinct than thought, I roared with rage and fought back, shoving backwards and grappling with my attackers. I only succeeded in flipping myself over and seeing that there were three of them. Rakis, of course, and he’d brought his two closest flunkies, bigger than him but not much in the brains department, which was probably why they followed him and laughed at his jokes.

They pinned me against the lab bench, still snarling with fury, while Rakis dumped the hot glue I’d been making all over the counter and my back to help snare me in place.

“Grrrarrrgh,” I yelled as some of the goop got past my fur and scalded my hide. “Back off!” I raised one clawed foot warningly, ready to kick and rip anyone within reach.

Unfortunately, his two friends, beyond holding my arms down while I was getting increasingly glued to the table, were keeping a wary distance on each side and Rakis quickly slid out of range, an ugly smirk on his slimy snout.

“Fuck you!” I said, in lieu of anything better that came to mind with adrenaline pounding through my veins. I regreted it the moment I said it, afraid it might have given him ideas.

“In your dreams, Flame.” Rakis leered at me lasciviously for the space of one worrying breath, then he chuckled. “You don’t have to worry about us raping you. Nobody wants to fuck a gorilla.”

His two flunkies sniggered in unison.

“Then what the hell do you want?” I snarled back.

“I want you to fucking -fail-, bitch,” he said, as he reached around me carefully and grabbed the file with my lab report and my valve mechanism. He held both of them up for me to see. He let the valve drop on the floor, and grabbed all the pages out of the file, report, tests, diagrams, schematics and all – everything I had spent weeks and months working on – and tore them up theatrically.

“You’re going to crawl to the Primus tomorrow with your tail between your legs and tell him you have nothing to submit. Nothing at all.”

Like an afterthought, he lifted his booted foot to stomp on my valve. The dramatic effect was rather lost when he suddenly screeched in pain, having discovered how sturdy well-assembled steel could be, even in small packages. It must have been like trying to step on a caltrops.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

That really pissed him off. He picked up the offending valve and pitched it out the window, with so much fury that it must have bounced off some structure outside. The air rang with a resounding metallic clang. A muffled “Hey! What was that!” followed it up.

“Oh, look,” I drawled,” You’ve gone and alerted a sentry. Better run, boys.”

His flunkies were aiming worried looks at him now, and he’d half-turned to check that the coast was still clear.

That’s when I screwed up.

Despite outside appearances, inside I was boiling with rage and worry over what tomorrow would bring and how I was going to salvage what remained. There weren’t many hours left till dawn. I just wanted him -gone.-

I hawked up a gob of something disgusting and spat it at him.

It went right into his eye.

Then he went mad.

Rakis grabbed me by the throat in a one-handed choke as he yanked a random bottle off the bench and drenched -my- eye with it.

I later found out it was ascetic acid, but at the time, I just knew that half my face felt like it was on fire, that I couldn’t see and that he was right in front of me within reach.

I screamed in pain, kicking and biting and trying to rip all the fur off my arms and back in an attempt to get free from the glue and KILL him.

After what seemed like an eon of snapping ineffectually at air, I managed to sink my teeth into his arm with a lucky lunge. He howled in turn.

By this time, his flunkies were fighting to separate the both of us. “We gotta go, Rakis!” One of them gasped.

To this day, I don’t know if it was rage or desperation that drove him to it, but he pulled out his dagger and stabbed me. Twice. The practiced doubled motion that Ash Legion assassins are trained to use.

He was, thankfully, still a novice-in-training or I might not be here telling this story today. The sharp agony blossoming in my chest took most of the resistance out of me and he pulled free.

There was the soft patter of padded feet and a sudden silence only broken by my ragged wheezing. Everything hurt, but my eye was what hurt the most.

My thinking had gotten very fuzzy by this point, my vision out the working eye near nonexistent, everything was dark and blurry and I just remember being convinced that if I could just wash my face I would be fine. I knew there was a bucket of water that I had drawn earlier just over by that stool there… if I could just get to it…

That was how the patrol investigating the ruckus found me.

Half-drowned, face-first in a bucket of well water, what remained of my fur in shambles and covered in glue gloop, bleeding out on the floor.

To say that the Primus was incensed, would be an understatement.

In the first few days, I spent more hours lying unconscious than awake in the infirmary, full of medication and with more bandages than fur on my body. But during one of my brief periods of lucidity, I overheard our Primus bellowing at the medic demanding answers and wanting to speak to me.

Arc Steeltrap had been a Legionnaire leading Ash Commando Group 43 through many successful actions against Ebonhawke before his final sortie, when a human-rigged explosive device blew half his leg off. The story went that he picked up his leg, limped over to the next room where the insurgents were hiding, and beat their heads in with it.

He survived, of course, but his stealthy days were done. They made him Primus of our little fahrar instead, where he seemed to spend his time hobbling around with his walking cane, making grumpy faces at everyone and grumbling about cubs these days.

It really wasn’t a face I wanted to see looming over me while I still hurt all over and couldn’t even crawl out of bed to the latrine.

All credit where it was due, Medic Kludge Steelsuture, one of his wounded bandmates that had been moved back from the front with Steeltrap, managed to dissuade him twice before he finally ran out of patience on the third visit and pushed his way through.

“All right, cub,” he glowered, “What happened?”

I wriggled as far back into the bedsheets as I could. I’d been dreading this question.

I mean, what was I going to say? If I blurted out the whole truth to all the adults, Rakis and his friends would doubtless get punished but the rest of the warband would probably never trust or even tolerate me near them again. I was a loner by nature, yes, but gladium was a word even I didn’t want to hear.

“Cub, we went over the perimeter defenses,” said Primus Steeltrap, in a surprisingly gentle, if gruff, tone. “Nothing was broken or showed signs of being tampered with. Sentries report seeing nothing until they heard sounds of a struggle in the workshop and went to investigate. We need to know if we have Flame Legion spies in our midst or if intruders managed to sneak in without us realizing.”

I shook my head mutely.

“No? So no outsiders attacked you, is what you’re saying,” he continued, with a persistent logic. “Which makes it an inside job. And since all the adults in the settlement should have more sense than to threaten and nearly kill one of my fahrar trainees, coupled with your reticence to say anything, it must have been one of your band mates. Am I right? You don’t have to say anything, just shake your head or nod.”

I didn’t know what to do. In a miserable whisper, I said, “I don’t want to rat out my warband.”

Medic Steelsuture, who had been hovering in the background like a mother hen, spoke up then. “This is serious, Flame. It’s not snitching. It’s not your regular bar brawl amongst soldiers that got a bit more drunk than they should have, that we can close an eye to, or some pushing and shoving and slapping each other around. Someone pulled a knife on you, and damned near killed you. His or her own band mate.”

Primus Steeltrap’s voice was a low growl. “Blood may tolerate their damned “field promotions” where some rager kills his superior officer and takes over, but we’re Ash and better than that. We have companies and a chain of command for a reason. We train assassins, for crying out loud. You think we’ll have much of a Legion left if we let every random hotshot think they can solve all their problems by stabbing any charr they don’t like?”

I shook my head.

“Exactly. So tell us who did it.”

I shook my head again.

“Suit yourself, but this isn’t going to get any easier. I can’t graduate the warband with a loose cannon in their midst. If we can’t solve it in-house right now, we’ll have to make a report. The higher ups will send an investigator. One way or the other, the culprit will get caught.”

Bastia the Bloodhound was… stern, regal, focused. Sharper than an obsidian blade. I’d never met anyone like her.

She was my only visitor during my recovery, which did, I’ll admit, leave me feeling lonely and a little disappointed. I told myself that the adults were probably barring the others from entry, but I never even saw anyone try to talk to Medic Steelsuture and I couldn’t shake the feeling that nobody cared enough to make the effort.

She did visit very regularly though, with a very pointed look at Medic Steelsuture, who would wordlessly get up and walk to the front of the infirmary out of earshot and give us privacy.

I was always very wary about what I said to her, in case I gave away something I didn’t want to.

For lack of anyone better to talk to though, and out of sheer boredom, I let her speak and I listened, instead of feigning tiredness and going to sleep, something I was already doing for too many hours of the day.

“Good morning, Flame.” Or afternoon, or evening, but she always called me by name, and without that little twinge of lip that many others would use when saying the word.

“Morning, ma’am,” I would mumble, or “Evening, Investigator” to stay polite. There was something about the way she carried herself that demanded that respect.

“A little update for you.” She always prefaced herself with that phrase, which sometimes felt odd, as if I were her superior officer and she was reporting to me, but I think she was just used to reporting whatever she found to various parties in that clipped, terse tone of hers that it’d become a habit.

She’d been to the workshop and examined the scene and found these various colors of fur stuck to the glue. These ones over here were probably mine, wouldn’t I agree? These others were probably from the perpetrators, yes, plural, because these were black or very dark grey hairs and these were an off-brown or orange that seemed more than a touch darker than mine.

Problem is, these are fairly common coat colors and more than one charr in your warband shares that sort of coloration, right?

Or they’d kept my warband on barracks arrest until she had a chance to interview them all. You’re not very liked by your warband, are you, Flame? They’re all claiming innocence and ignorance of why anyone would want to attack you.

That you’re a loner and kept yourself to yourself and burning the midnight oil would be something you’d do while most other self-respecting trainees would be catching all the sleep they could get. Which was what they all say they were doing. But you and I know that some of them are lying… want to tell me how many is “some?”

I’d peek my one eye at her – Medic Steelsuture still wasn’t sure if my other eye would heal, he said he’d irrigated it further after my fogged up attempt at it but that its best chance now was bandages and time – and say something noncommittal, and more often than not, Bastia’s amber eyes would be glittering right back, watching my every expression.

Or well, regardless, there was someone who was going to get into a spot of trouble. Brek? Did I know him?

I kept my face as still as possible. Brek was one of Rakis’ flunkies who was there that night.

Did I want to know how she sussed him out? My band mates were all on lockdown, as she said. I was stabbed, and the culprit wouldn’t have been able to clean the weapon they used very thoroughly under the watchful eyes of both the posted sentries and the rest of the warband. So she made them produce all their belt knives, spares and all. There weren’t any ill-cleaned weapons, but Brek was missing one of his spares.

But you know, she didn’t think he was the one. A little too thick, and he seemed genuinely shocked to find out that he was missing a blade. All he can say is that he thinks someone stole it. He’s been told the Quaestor’s going to hang him by his entrails for losing an issued weapon, and that he may very well get charged with assaulting you, if no one else comes forward.

I tried not to blink or react, while inside, I was cursing Rakis’ duplicity and cunning. He must have decided to throw Brek in front of the grenade in order to save himself. I was stuck debating with myself if I really should name Rakis to this outsider, or settle for Brek catching the punishment – I mean, he was there, after all.

Then Bastia laughed.

“Flame, you younglings may think you’re being clever by saying nothing, but all your faces are like open books. I can tell you recognize the name, and that you’re not immediately protesting his innocence. If I wanted to, I could just read to you your entire warband roster right here, and I guarantee I’ll see you twitch at the right names.”

That earned her a glare, which she only seemed to find more funny.

“Oh, you’re not the only one I can read. Brek looked immediately to his friend Rakis for help, who pretended to find a spot on the wall utterly fascinating. Then he sort of caught the hint and tried not to look anywhere, but couldn’t help but exchange a pleading look for help at Clinker when he thought no one was watching, who gave him a helpless shrug. We hauled him off after that, and he’s having some serious alone time to consider his future in a cell at the moment.”

She aimed an arched eyebrow at me. “How am I doing so far?”

“Congratulations, I guess?” I rasped. I leaned back against my pillows, trying to determine if the strange feeling in my chest was the stress of trying to keep a secret I wasn’t sure I should be keeping being released, or if it was more tension from anticipating what the rest of the warband would say when I returned, or how Rakis would react.

“You don’t sound too happy. Did you fancy him?”

“HELL, no,” I snarled.

“Ah good, you have some life in you still. As I was saying, I don’t just want Brek. I want his two friends also. All their coats match the hairs left in the workshop and I don’t hear any protest from you that I’ve got the wrong individuals. Have I?”

This time she didn’t fill in the silence like she usually did. She just looked straight at me for so long that Medic Steelsuture looked up from where he was busying himself with some tools disinfecting to check that she hadn’t left. He looked down again though when he saw her, so I couldn’t expect any reprieve from that direction.

“I…” I didn’t want to fight. Or get anyone in trouble. I just wanted to be left alone and accepted for who I was in the warband. It was always everybody else who couldn’t leave me be, always said I was sucking up to adults and outsiders for help, teacher’s pet and all.

But I couldn’t make myself lie and say she got the wrong charr. That would be wrong too. I couldn’t bring myself to cover up for the warband that much when I doubted they’d do the same for me.

Now they were going to blame me for this too.

“No, you haven’t…” I whispered.

Bastia nodded like she had been expecting it, and turned on her heels to cross the room and speak to Medic Steelsuture in a low whisper.

He nodded, saluted and left.

Then she came back, pulling up a chair right next to my bed. Bastia settled into it, leaning back and grooming her claws with a small switchblade.

She seemed content with not saying anything, just studied me while I looked back worriedly at her.

Finally, I broke the silence. “What’s going to happen now?”

“The barracks arrest should be released shortly, if it hasn’t been already,” she replied. “A trap has been set for Rakis and Clinker. Both are under close surveillance. I’m staying out of sight to ensure they don’t spook further. I’m positive they’ll do something hasty and stupid soon, like try to dispose of the real weapon, or get in contact with Brek to get their stories straight.

“There’s the very distant possibility that they’ll go rogue and try to run, but the sentries have been doubled today, just in case. Or they’ll think you blabbed and come here to get some revenge and silence you, which is why I’m here, standing guard.

“They’re young and not really hardened criminal types, so I find the latter unlikely. Hopefully, they’ll be caught in the middle of doing something very incriminating.”

“If they aren’t?” I said.

Bastia gave me a level, even look then. “There will be a tribunal called, Flame. There should be enough circumstantial evidence to make a decent case, but the tribunal won’t give two hoots about my hunches on how they obviously looked the guiltiest. The only one who can give direct evidence was a witness who was there. That’s your decision if you want to testify.”

“I… I don’t know…”

“Your loyalty is commendable, Flame, if rather misplaced.” She steepled her fingers. “ I’ve interviewed your warband, remember? I’ve read all your dossiers. They don’t like you. Their distaste is quite clear. Maybe your name put you on the wrong foot from the beginning, maybe it was the age disparity, but you’ve never quite found a good fit with them.”

“Still, I’m no traitor,” I protested weakly. “And… I know he stabbed me, bbut it still feels like telling on them.”

Bastia grunted. She stood up and looked out the window.

“What about you,” I asked, “If it was your warband, wouldn’t you want to defend them? Keep them together, not lose anyone?”

“These days, my loyalty is to the Legion first,” she said. “My warband comes a distant second. As an Investigator, I travel around too much to really form close ties anymore.”

“These days, you said.” I pointed out.

She smiled, a wry, sad smile. “You’re pretty sharp. I like that.”

“That’s not answering my question,” I said.

“Long fucked-up stories are boring, kiddo.”

I gestured weakly to my bandaged, mummified self. “I don’t think I’m going anywhere in a hurry.”

Bastia laughed again. “Fine. You wanna hear a story so bad? One about misplaced loyalties?

“Once upon a time, there were some charr I knew…”

And it starts with a love triangle, Bastia said, two males, one female, all Ash and from the same warband.

One of the males, the one the female thought she loved more, was assigned to a deep cover operation in the Iron Legion. The rest of the warband was posted alongside the Iron Legion group, ostensibly to reconnoiter and combat a Flame Legion incursion in the Iron Marches, but to help pick up his covert reports, run interference and so on, minimizing contact otherwise.

Problem was, the operation went on so long, with the Iron Legion warband under such intense fire from the Goldies, that the Ash male started to believe his cover story, that they really were a band of brothers and the reports back to Ash started drying up, getting more terse and infrequent, until one day they stopped completely.

Fearing that he’d gone over for good, the Ash female disobeyed orders and went to talk to him. He confirmed as much, saying his loyalties were now with his warband, who would die for him and vice versa, that the unit was being moved north to support a big battle in three days, and that he was done with deceit and might even fess up who he was if Ash didn’t leave him be.

The Ash female returned to her warband. She didn’t get into trouble, only because the Legionnaire was the other male involved in the story and was crazy over her.

For a day, she brooded over the right thing to do before deciding to report what she’d found out from him. She was dreading the order that would come down to clean up the mess, likely by offing the errant Ash male.

Instead, a priority message came down that the warband was to intercept a Flame Legion group to the southeast, containing a contingent of shamans that were not to be allowed to reinforce the battle up north, and to ignore the Ash male that had gone AWOL for now.

Realizing that she had suddenly been given one more chance to convince the Ash male to come back to his senses, the female decided she had to break away from the warband and head north.

Some would call that desertion, you know?

The Legionnaire caught up with her while she was barely half a day away. He’d sent the rest of the warband onward with the intercept orders for the Flame Legion group.

They had a righteous quarrel, with heated words and not a few blows exchanged, but the female got her way by shamelessly manipulating his ego and his love for her. He left with the impression that he wasn’t as good as the other male she was chasing, that he wasn’t good enough for her.

The Ash female raced north to find out that she had been too late.

At dawn, just before the coming battle, the Ash male had come clean to his Iron brothers, naïvely thinking that they’d saved each others’ lives so many times over that they’d clap him on his shoulder and say all was forgiven. Or at least, not overreact.

Instead, they tore him apart, and hung his carcass on their siege engine as a traitor.

There would be some strongly worded inter-Legion messages exchanged from one Tribune to another, after the fact.

There was nothing the Ash female could do but trek back south to rejoin her warband, suspecting that she would also be gutted, hung or stuck on punishment squad for the rest of her life for going AWOL.

Except she found out that no one ever had the chance to report it.

You know what the dumb fuck of a Legionnaire did, after his quarrel? He decided he would singlehandedly infiltrate the Flame Legion group to assassinate the shamans. Because male ego.

They caught him. His torture drew in the rest of the warband, whose loyalty to their Legionnaire overrode their common sense. Some were captured, some they slew, some converted.

The only lucky thing was that the Flame Legion was delayed because they were so busy destroying the Ash warband.

The Ash female managed to sneak into the camp and free the few remaining captives. Half of those were lost assassinating the shamans and some of the converted, before the bedraggled survivors managed to make their escape in the chaos and limp home. With their warband decimated, the handful were all reassigned elsewhere.

“The End,” Bastia said.

“That was you,” I said.

She shrugged. “I didn’t name any names. I just said they were charr I knew a long time ago. The moral of the story is not to get shortsighted about your loyalties, I suppose. Or maybe that shit happens, and you deal with it the best you can.”

I thought in silence for a while.

“You do know,” she said, “that while you’re recovering, the rest of your warband has turned in their term projects and you’ll miss the first draft.”

“Probably the second and third as well,” I mumbled.

“Your future with them is an omega wolf’s lot. Always getting bullied, gnawing at the fringes for some acceptance.”

Put like that, it sounded so bleak. I said nothing.

“I’ve read your dossier. You’re intelligent, competent enough with a rifle – though that eye may affect your marksmanship from now on – good with mechanical devices. You’d make a decent enough investigator. Or even an Iron Legion infiltrator if you don’t forget your true loyalties.”

I stared at her with my good eye. “Are you…”

“Yes, Flame. I’m offering to be your mentor.”

“If I testify and leave with you, of course,” I said bitterly.

“As I said, you’re sharp. I can’t very well separate you from your fahrar and warband without just cause.”

“Sometimes,” I said, to no one in particular, “I hate the way Ash Legion works. All this subterfuge and plans within plans. Charr watching charr, hoarding information and secrets.”

Bastia chuckled. “Kiddo, we’re not here to be liked. Internal Affairs is here to make sure the whole machinery works. Do you know your history? What happened when the charr kept losing to the humans, and what happened when we won?”

“We trusted the Flame Legion blindly and believed in false gods?”

“For a time, we actually won doing that, even if it was completely misguided and under chauvinistic rule.” She corrected.

“No, we fought amongst ourselves. Each time the charr were driven back, we were too busy killing each other to prove we were right. We forgot the chain of command, let renegades have their way, and got undisciplined and disorganized.

“Ash Legion is here to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Yeah, we watch and spy on the other Legions. If charr don’t police other charr, who’d you want in their place? The humans?”

A deep cough interrupted. Primus Steeltrap had joined us. “We have them, Investigator Bastia. Trying to drop the knife down the well the gladium use.”

“Ah, excellent work, Primus.” Bastia turned smoothly. “Please have them ready to be transported to the Black Citadel by this evening.”

“What’s going to happen to them,” I asked.

“A tribunal,” Primus Steeltrap rumbled. “They’re juveniles, probably punishment detail of some sort, if they’re found guilty of the assault.”

“They will be,” Bastia said.

“If,” said Primus Steeltrap firmly.

Bastia the Bloodhound grunted noncommittally. She stalked towards the infirmary entrance without another word, but she paused before leaving and turned her head to look directly at me.

“Well?” she said, as she stood silhouetted in the doorway.

And I knew that she wouldn’t wait a second longer if I hesitated. “All right,” I said, sealing my fate down one path for good.

“You’ll hear from me soon.”

charroncharr

It’s been nearly twenty years since that day. I’ve gone through multiple warbands, always remembering what Bastia said. “Loyalty to the Legion.”

People sometimes ask how I can hunt and kill my fellow charr, or turn them in on orders, without the least bit of regret.

They’re wrong.

I regret the senseless waste and the need for all this fighting and subterfuge every single day.

But every society has its criminals and its renegades, and if charr don’t catch other charr, who will?

Wildstar: First Impressions, It’s Bipolar

Cartoon spaceships. WoW. In space.

Yep, it’s WoW in space.

How can it NOT be, when this is the very first thing that hits you in the face when you open the Options with Esc?
How can it NOT be, when this is the very first thing that hits you in the face when you open the Options with Esc? Add-ons. Oi vey.

Perhaps more interestingly, it’s not JUST WoW in space.

It seems to actually blend quite a number of MMOs, having borrowed bits and pieces from each. (See how many other MMOs I name later in this post, fer instance.)

I actually quite enjoyed both the Exile and Dominion tutorial areas, for a start.

To understand this perspective, as opposed to the myriad number of whining compaints over the zone channel about how sucky the tutorial was (thank goodness the channel text is so small by default, hell is other people and they’re much easier to ignore when their words aren’t in your face,) you need to realize that I came into the Wildstar Open Beta completely unexposed to much of the prior hype beyond scanning the official website regarding classes and paths.

That is, I start like a total newbie would, and see how far the tutorial takes me.

And it took me right into the world and setting of Wildstar with fairly understated storytelling. No large walls of text, no extreme infodumps, but a lot of small things combined – visual theme, music, cutscenes, eavesdropped NPC speech, clickable signages, traditional quests, etc.

I played the Exiles tutorial first, which was probably wise, as it set the tone right away for what to expect. A space western that didn’t take itself very seriously. Full of explosions, excitement and rebel sound and fury. Pioneers and frontiersmen to this new planet of Nexus.

(Yes, I'm running on low res textures. Deal. I'm already impressed my seven year old toaster can run this at a -playable- level, as opposed to say... Landmark level.
(Yes, I’m running on low res textures. Deal. I’m already fairly pleased that my seven year old toaster can run this at a -playable- level, as opposed to say… Landmark level.)

Playing the Dominion tutorial was an interesting contrast, for sure.

The Star Wars echoes hit me there and then, and I grokked it, just like that.

Exiles are the free-spirited Rebels and Dominion are the Ebil Empire.

Long live ebil empires!
Long live all ebil empires! Hail the Emperor / Empress / Dark Lord of Indeterminate Gender!

Weirdly enough, though I belong to the rare nerd subset who aren’t at all taken with the Star Wars universe, I was quite willing to play along with Wildstar’s take on things.

(I think the difference is that Star Wars wants to be taken seriously, to be all angsty and drama-ridden, and it ends up reading like Twilight vampires – a saccharine adolescent fantasy – while Wildstar is plainly on a ‘Let’s be f–king outrageous for laughs’ roll.)

I picked up little dribbles of lore via the tutorial’s fairly good design, which you can see sneakily forces you to interact with NPC members of each species so that each race can be explained to you in game. The Temple and Imperial Musuem on the Dominion side also did a decent job sneaking in more bits of lore so you get an idea of where everything stands, so to speak.

The music of Wildstar is a giant plus in its favor.

It really sets the mood for each zone and map you wander into.

Obviously, all of the above is a matter of personal taste. If you think a game that isn’t grim-n-gritty realistic, and that unabashedly -enjoys- splashing around in bright comic colors and reveling in its comic+western+space themes is -awful-, you’re going to hate Wildstar with a vengeance.

If you’re okay with, or even laugh at being ordered around by a tiny furry space gremlin with a comic sadistic streak a mile wide and who talks a bit like Yoda but FOR MAD SCIENCE! to press buttons and accidentally incinerate, innervate and transform innocent NPCs into Creatures of Chaos in the name of bringing them back to the loving fold of the Ebil Empire, you can probably get along with Wildstar’s setting just fine.

(Oh yes, there’s themes of Warhammer 40k too, blending in right along there. You’ll know it when you get to the end of the Dominion tutorial.)

Personally, I rather liked it.

Hope that doesn't reveal too much
Hope that doesn’t reveal too much about me. Hissssss….

Out of the tutorial zone and into the more open world (insofar as that word stretches), it’s WoW all over again.

We all know the schtick by now, I’m sure. Even me that didn’t play WoW for long.

Zones are divided up by appropriate level quest hubs where you pick up a bunch of exclamation marks standing conveniently near the village/town (Wildstar addition: Settler buff stations) and then go to the nearby areas to kill and pick up and click on things as appropriate.

There will be the odd exclamation mark away from the quest hub and a little out of the way so that you can feel like you’ve found a side quest or two by somewhat wandering off the beaten track, and a bunch of clickable lore collectables that are reminiscent of Rift or EQ2.

There is some new innovation mixed in with the old in that you can contact certain quest NPCs with a communicator and call in your quests that way without having to go back to the NPC, which is the more modern and convenient take on things.

Confusing the issue though are some quest NPCs that -don’t- allow the option, so you’ll STILL have to jog your way back to those. (I wish Wildstar would make up its mind.)

Adding on to the new-and-improved WoW feeling is the addition of extra stuff to do.

Kill certain mobs or reach a certain area and a Challenge will pop up – asking you to accomplish something within a certain time limit. If you manage it, you get a random roll for some bonus loot.

Which I found rather fun, up until the point where I found the area denuded of mobs and unable to progress any further while my clock was running down, because there were five other players in the same area as me trying to do the same thing.

(Cue HEAD SLAM and heartfelt CURSE TO THE GODS for the stupid traditional MMO model of competitive nodes and competitive quest completion.)

Sometimes, it’s like Wildstar doesn’t quite know where it wants to be, having blended both old and new.

I make no apologies for running up to someone and ‘helping’ to take down their mob. Sorry, but I’m from a GW2 culture, it’s what we do.

I’ve had other people do the same to me and I’ve had mixed feelings about it.

See, the thing is, there’s no hard tagging as in older MMOs where the first to tag gets all the loot and xp. Hard tagging gives a second player no reason to help because they don’t get anything. So they run off and leave you to it.

XP appears to be automatically shared. Unfortunately, no, it’s not like GW2 where both parties get the full credit. I killed a Wildstar mob by myself for 45xp. I kill the same mob with someone else and get 20-30xp. The benefit though, is that the mob dies pretty durned quick with two people firing on it.

Then again, I’ve encountered the situation where some crazy level 15 player has decided to wander around in level 7 mob territory and singlehandedly shoots up everything from range, not letting anyone else get a hit in, effectively tagging everything by virtue of killing it dead.

Leading to a lot of foot-tapping while waiting for mobs to respawn and for this stupidly outleveled player to finish whatever he came to do and leave.

Yet, there are Public Events, and Soldier-started quests, and even the odd veteran or elite mob (at least, judging by their increase in hitpoint reservoir) or meant-for-group mob that seems to encourage just jumping into the action and helping each other attack. Because you do still kinda share quest credit completion if you manage to get tags in.

Wildstar is freaking bipolar, man.

It’ll be interesting to see what mob ettiquette winds up becoming once the player culture is more established… seems like it could go either way.

Speaking of extra stuff and Paths, I gave the Soldier, Explorer and Scientist ones a spin.

Explorer was pretty overwhelming when I got into the first zone and everything started opening up on my quest log. If you like jumping puzzles and wandering off the beaten path via following directional prompts in a quest log and climbing to high places, it’s not bad. It’s more like for Achiever-Explorers though.

(I didn’t mind the directional prompts for quests, by the by. The maps are so huge in that barren WoW fashion – ie, a cunning excuse to make the place feel big and take up more of your subscription time jogging across it – that it’s hard to determine which direction to go without it – and there’s nothing worth your while in most of the adjoining space as it’s all non-interactable background scenery or mobs.)

450 freaking meters. Of barren rock. At times like this, an on-call arrow by clicking the quest on the quest log is definitely welcome so that I'm not wasting my time wandering in circles.
400 freaking meters. Of barren rock and some random mobs. To jog ever so slowly to. Sprint notwithstanding. At times like this, an on-call arrow by clicking the quest on the quest log is definitely welcome so that I’m not wasting more of my time wandering in circles.

Scientist felt a lot more suited to the Bartle Explorer as there’s less obvious signposting. You get a little scanbot summon and keep your eyes peeled for the Scientist icon appearing on things, which you then scan to complete quests and trigger group buffs. The most fun thing I encountered playing the Scientist path was wandering into a large green teleporter-like object hoping it went someplace… and it did…

ws_eldanlab

Turns out it was a sekrit Eldan lab of some sort, with interactables that were triggerable with my scanbot, and a bit of a logic puzzle at the end (which I mostly solved via clicking very persistently until the right combination was reached, than through any real understanding.)

Got some speshul achievements out of it and a bit more story lore as to what was going on with the zone – like how a certain NPC faction we were fighting came to be. Which was neat, and did trigger all the right chords in lil ol’ Explorer me.

The Soldier path I found pretty fun too. As it opened up more combat opportunities.

(Yes, it did really explode into giant chunks of meat. Whether you laugh or groan at this will determine if you like Wildstar or not.)
(Yes, it did really explode into giant chunks of meat. Whether you laugh or groan at this will give you a good inkling if you like Wildstar’s atmosphere or not.)

Ah, combat.

To me, this makes or breaks whether I can stand to play certain MMOs.

If the combat isn’t enjoyable, I simply can not stay with it for long, since that tends to be the most common activity on repeat loop.

Wildstar combat reminded me of City of Heroes and Guild Wars 2, with a side helping of Rift or TSW AoE indicators and talent trees.

Which, if you know my MMO history, reflects fairly well on it.

I got City of Heroes vibes from the three classes I tried up to level 6-10 or so. The Warrior was like a tanker in pace. Heavy stately (some might even say, slow) attacks. Each blow ought to be placed for maximum effect, because you’ll be wasting a lot of animation time otherwise.

Oh, yeah. Surround me with mobs, I can take it!
Oh, yeah. Surround me with mobs, I can take it! Cleavecleavecleave. Cackle gleefully. (The joys of Soldier holdout quests.)

The Stalker brought with it echoes of both CoH’s stalker and scrapper class. Melee deeps, baby. With stealth! If you like fast melee animations and spamming buttons up in melee range, this is the class for you. It attacks at a much faster pace than the Warrior, but generally hits for a little less each blow (stealth backstabs excepted).

The Spellslinger reminded me of a CoH blaster. It had a ‘snipe’-alike that required some setup time and could wipe off a lot of hp from enemies, and then you cleaned up with some mobile pewpew.

Balance-wise, I dunno, it’s going to take some time for things to shake or settle on that front, I feel.

And it might go in a number of directions, from traditional specialized holy trinity to hybrid combinations, depending on what the true numbers turn out to be.

I kept seeing Medics plow through fields of mobs at a pace that my warrior could only dream of, ranged dps/heals has always been a fairly potent tank-mage combination. (Groups of defenders and corruptors in CoH were always very popular and successful, and easily kept apace with or were even better than specialized tanker/blaster/heal0r combinations.)

The Engineer looked to have some interesting robot pets and can apparently be a ranged tank (shades of City of Villain’s mastermind, anyone?)

Movement and positioning-wise, experience with GW2 stands you in very good stead in Wildstar.

I watched a fellow Warrior stand toe to toe with a couple of even-level mobs and get knocked around to half hp or less, and he had to use a consumable heal to recover and defeat them.

Then I waited for the same mobs to respawn and danced around their telegraphed AoE cleaves, interspersed a knockdown at the correct timing, and slaughtered them with barely a dent in my shields.

Oh, I -love- the interrupts in Wildstar. Watching the heavy telegraphing disappear with one well-timed interrupt (knockdown, stun, etc.) on a group of mobs, and following up with a synergy attack that does extra damage to knocked down mobs, is such a great feeling. It makes it really obvious that your cc just prevented a world of hurt and the tables have just turned. Making crowd control feel good has been always pretty hard to do in MMOs.

It does lack some of the elegance of GW2, in that there’s less of a focus on watching mob animations and tells (crucial in GW2) and more on watching colored indicators of crazy shapes and sizes on the ground. So you’re more always looking at the -floor- rather than at the mobs per se. (Granted, it’s not like you can see certain mobs in GW2 either once they get covered in particle effects.)

There’s still a bit of a bipolar feel to Wildstar combat-wise.

I keep wanting to know if it is possible for good movement and positioning to reward a skilled player with being able to solo content meant for groups. (I really would like such a possibility to be an option, with speed of group clears being the bonus encouragement for grouping.)

I tried it with a group quest marked for 2+ players. Some random named mob, Direclaw or some such. I ran in with my warrior and CIRCLE STRAFED the sh-t out of it. This actually -almost- defeated the AI, and I was getting the 6.8k hp down 100-120hp at a time, though I did catch some damage from unavoidable blows and some unexpected AoE and was frightened enough for my hp bar to pop a health consumable.

Unfortunately, I think I chose to pop the health consumable a little too early, when I was at half health and ended up wasting some extra hp I could have really used. I ended up dying with it having a -sliver- of hp left.

(Of course, after that, an extra player showed up while I was ghosting around dead and sulking. I watched him attempt to tank the mob solo with his bots and he didn’t seem like he was getting very far on that front, so I chose to splurge and spend half my accumulated currency to respawn right there and then to jump in and help. Then a third player showed up and the group mob got pwned.)

I suspect there will be a hard limit later on just how far this is possible, given how traditionally WoW Wildstar seems to be trying to cling on to. (Wouldn’t do for all the co-dependent players to start crying, y’know, that their precious specialized roles feel unwanted…) Which is sad, in my book.

On paper, there does seem to be room for hybrid roles. The APM tree, or whatever it’s called, is some kind of point buy system which separates out the Wildstar trinity into Assault, Support and Utility, and allows for hybrids between the three. But I suspect the theorycrafters will get to it sooner than later and develop their cookie cutters for best dps, best tanking, and best healing, and all that middle flexibility will be lost in the search for optimization. I mean, it’s really too much work otherwise for many other players to figure out, so the easiest path of least resistance will be to copy someone else’s builds, down the road.

The skill and build selection portion is interesting, in that it has shades of GW2 and TSW. Your skill loadout at any time is limited, and you’ve got more than enough skills to fill the bar. So pick and choose the ones that fit together best for the purposes you’re trying to achieve. You could go full assault, or full support, or some mix of the two, choose skills with interrupts, skills that build threat or those that don’t, skills that keep you mobile, etc.

ws_actionset

I had little to no issues pressing 1 repeatedly due to both CoH and GW2 prior training, where sometimes you don’t just want to rely on the preset autoattack and want to queue up your basic attack at a better interval. Mileage of folks more used to a less active system may vary.

And here’s where it gets bipolar yet again. It seems like a great combat system that brings in a lot of the innovations of the newer MMOs, that is going to be put to a very old and traditional use.

My admittedly limited take on the Wildstar endgame is that it is going to be PvP like WoW battlegrounds, 5-man dungeons and *wince* 20 and 40-man raids.

This in an age where even World of Warcraft is going flex in their raiding.

Are players going to innovate in their builds if you set them up with exponentially increasing gear and stats and scenarios that are likely going to challenge a very specialized holy trinity?

Or are they simply going to go back to what is familiar to them.

Truth is, I know I have no long-term future in Wildstar if they’re going to stick to a traditional MMO endgame.

I wouldn’t mind playing along with the leveling game to experience some of the stories and content, enjoy some of the combat along the way, but I’ll be damned if I have to put my fate in the hands of a tank or healer that I -hope- is competent enough, or have to wait for ages for a tank/healer duo to deign to pick up some disposable and interchangeable dps, or alarm clock raid for weeks on end because I’ll be letting down 19 or 39 other players if I don’t meet a schedule in order to progress, ever again.

Nor am I going to pay $15 like clockwork every month for a game that tries to take up as much of my time as possible around every turn.

Why should I, if I can play comparable games like Rift or TSW or LOTRO or whatever for free?

Sure, they say, if you’re hardcore enough and can earn enough gold, you can buy a month’s sub in game coin from other players willing to drop the cash for you. Which is all very well if you want to be hardcore enough, but I’d really rather not go the traditional WoW hardcore route, thanks. (I’d already be playing WoW for that, right? Cos being hardcore means keeping up with all those prior commitments and investments of time.)

So as a filthy casual, it’s unlikely I’ll can earn enough for a sub in-game just to feed a leveling urge.

If I ever found a month that I can devote tons of time to Wildstar, I might put down $15 for that month to just go on a leveling/story/combat spree for a while.

But I wouldn’t want sub time ticking down on me otherwise, feeling guilty that I can only play it irregularly or for limited periods a week (which in a sub game designed by nature to waste your time, may not be sufficient to get anywhere at a reasonable clip.)

As for buying the box at full price… well…

Let’s put it this way. If I wanted to commit fully to Wildstar and be that hardcore raider and PvPer and house owner and what-not, yeah, I think Wildstar is worth the box price AND the sub every month.

For just wanting to casually sample some stories while leveling and play with the combat system, I’m thinking more in the 50% off range, and hoping that the included 30 days is enough. Maybe a month or two more if one gets hooked, and less if it gets boring.

If it goes free to play at any point, hell yeah, I think it’ll be really worth it then.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how many of each player type there are and how many Wildstar is hoping to capture from each group.

I suspect Wildstar should gain a decent enough following akin to Rift or TSW to keep it going, more or less.

That there’ll be a LOT of three monthers falling off the title.

And that there’ll be quite a number of players like me who don’t think the game is that bad, but are unwilling to spend the time or money at present, and will sit on the sidelines waiting for the situation to get more attractive before considering jumping in.

In the meantime, the week-long Open Beta is a great opportunity to play free and make your own decision whether you’re ready for that MMO marriage to Wildstar.

I know -I’ll- be playing it for all its worth while it’s still free.

I mean, any MMO where you get to play one of these little critters
I mean, any MMO where you get to play one of these delightful little critters is worth spending some one-night-stands on, right? (The Chua and Draken race animations are pretty neat, by the by. I could double jump all day as a Chua and grin at the resulting tucked-into-a-ball roll on the ground. ALL FREAKIN’ DAY.)

GW2: Cannons Are The Coolest Thing

Cannons are the coolest. Yes, they are.

I believe I owe all of you a post about the thing I enjoyed most in this update’s Super Adventure Box.

clouddance

It’s this.

No lives consumed. No grinding a million baubles. No juggling with a dozen skills and items. No piss-poor annoying knockback. No grousing about how latency makes timed portions harder.

Just the cheerful unadulterated joy of figuring out how to get here and dance.

In case you were not aware, the lobby of the SAB is a lot bigger than it seems on first glance.

undertheworld

A little judicious exploration will reveal a subterranean space.

upsidedownfountain

With an extremely odd feature.

A little logical extension brings you to where you’ll find a number of people like to perch.

fountainfireworks

And further extension from there brings you into the clouds. With cannons.

It’s funny, they run on the same principle as the flowers and lightning crystals that shoot you from place to place. That is to say, they’re twitchy, sensitive to latency and not altogether that accurate. Which makes reaching certain clouds with the checkpoint flags on them rather a pain.

But somehow, climbing into the barrel of a cannon and being shot into the air as a rolled up ball of heavy armor spiky doom is SO MUCH FUN.

Y’all owe it to yourselves to give it a try too, if you haven’t already.

It makes finding the genie in the game only a pale second coolest thing.

gamegenie

The Konami Code on the rock is an amusing easter egg.

It leads to an interesting mini-story that grounds the SAB back in the GW2 world. I liked finding the new lab open where none existed before.

newlab

It’s a tiny reminder that it’s actually possible to permanently change the GW2 landscape if so desired.

inthelab

In the lab, you get to overhear little conversation snippets that suggest that Moto broke away from this krewe some time ago, before appearing once more with the fully functioning and sophisticated Super Adventure Box, which leaves you to wonder about what happened in the iterim. Did he get any help with this technology, fer instance?

You learn that there was another original Adventure Box, developed in the past, which was a lot less portable than the technology of today. This krewe borrows some of its schematics to use as a recording device for their Somno-Scholar, which is an attempt to induce learning while sleeping.

Again, there are some implications that are not outright said, but fun to speculate on. The technology this krewe is using is still fairly chunky in size, we might compare it to a PC in our world. Moto seems to be running around with the equivalent of a highly sophisticated smartphone, just one portal that leads into an 8-bit virtual reality creation?

Where, too, might the original Adventure Box be located if we extrapolate backwards and compare the size of a mainframe of old to a PC of today?

Well, there IS an abandoned Proxemics Lab that guilds have been running about in today. It’s ostensibly a place where someone was studying intelligence and learning capabilities of Skritt subjects by throwing them in a giant maze.

It’s a stretch and I personally doubt they’re related beyond being very big in size and not at all portable, but who knows.

Also, on following the instructions of the Genie in the Box and in the metagame quest for achievement get, you end up being the scoundrel who does something to their test of the Somno-Scholar device, which leads to a cutscene.

Iamnowhungryandneedawaffle

It ends up scrambling this guy’s brains a little, but again, there are some interesting implications to speculate on further.

Like, why would anyone go through the trouble of making this a cutscene unless there was an important story development in here somewhere?

There’s a faint hint of it being potentially possible to touch the Eternal Alchemy like Scarlet was supposed to have done in the short story posted on Anet’s website. Except he didn’t, thanks to your interference. On someone’s directions. Whoever that someone is. The guy is convinced it’s a prank by Moto, his old rival. Moto claims complete ignorance when you ask him.

And whether there are any lasting side effects or unforeseen neural re-programming from his experience is an open question.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see.