Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Launch Day

Last week, a good friend gifted me with a pre-purchase game code for Guild Wars 2. My friend was 100% confident that I would love it, and let's just say that my friends know me well. 

John and I played during the headstart this weekend, and had an absolute blast. Not only is the game great, but we're in a guild with a lot of our long-time City of Heroes friends. Pre-purchase folks got to log in at midnight eastern Friday night/Saturday morning to check it out. After securing our names, John went to bed, but I stayed up and began exploring with my Sylvari Mesmer. 
 My first impression of the world was "This place is HUGE!" followed closely by "And GORGEOUS!" Three of us in the guild made Sylvari and teamed up to explore, do zone events, and work on our personal stories. 
The party chat here cracks me up. It took us a while to get used to reading a new map. 
But the Sylvari aren't the only race with huge, gorgeous maps. I made at least one character of every race (except human), and I can assure you that every zone is full of rich, lush detail that boggles the mind and senses. The amount of interactivity in the world is also fun, and the zone events are a blast. I was also pleased to find that you get experience for nearly everything you do, rather than just through combat. 
This is in the Norn capital. The guild chat also makes me laugh. 
There are many things to enjoy about Guild Wars 2, and I'm really, really thankful I was so graciously gifted with the game code. These are the highlights for me:
  • No monthly subscription - GW2 is a buy to play game. You buy the game or digital download, and it's yours. Forever. With no restrictions. The entire game is open to you with no additional cash coming out of your pocket. However, they do have a cash store where optional items can be purchased with real money. But even some of those items can be earned in game! You won't be nickle and dimed here. Also, you won't feel pressured to play to "get your money's worth" out of your monthly sub. Play as hardcore or as casual as you like. 
  • Fluid combat - The combat flows smoothly and makes sense. Plus, you can swap weapons in combat for an even more dynamic experience. There are so many powers that you can have going at once, it's unbelievable. 
  • Racial equality - There are no class/profession limitations based on race, like in some other MMOs. Also, there are no "good guys/bad guys" among the players. No factions to create artificial tension. You can talk to, team with, and be in a guild with anyone you want. Additionally, traveling to the capital cities for each race is super easy and doesn't require you to go through high level zones you aren't ready for. 
  • Gender equality - Women in this game don't have ridiculous armor. It actually covers them, like combat armor should. I did a mission in my personal story with my Norn Warrior, and an NPC made a super sexist comment to her. She quickly put him in his place. It was great. So far, I have seen no sexist content, and that makes me happy. The Sylvari and the Asura both have women as their leaders (I think the humans do, too; I heard NPC chat about "the human queen.") And those leaders are strong, confident, smart, and able. Also, the Asura's leader is voiced by the fantastic Felicia Day and it makes me all kinds of giddy. 
  • Crafting - The crafting system is fun and highly detailed. I don't have much experience with it yet, but I baked 10 loaves of bread and got 3/4 of a level out of it! It generously rewards your efforts with XP. 
  • Leveling and Content - You will never, ever out level content. As soon as you enter a zone, you are automatically put at one level above the zone max. BUT! You don't lose your powers! You don't have to adjust your play style at all! It's really great. And leveling doesn't have a ramp up to it. You level at a flat pace from 1 to 80. That is very, very nice and takes the grind out of leveling. 
  • Quality of life additions - There are tons of tiny details in GW2 that just make the quality of life for players good - account based guild membership, account based storage, a global contact system, customizable armor through dyes and skins. The system remembers your chat tabs, remembers you preferred gender when making characters, and you can see which if your friends is online before you even log a character in. The map is fully interactive. You can set down beacons and markers that your party can see, and even trace routes for them John Madden style. 
It wasn't all a big love fest, though I think most of my complaints were due to launch bugs. On Saturday, when John and I were leveling our Norns, the game kept separating us into different instances of zones. He didn't always get a pop up asking if he wanted to join me on my instanced mission. The "join up" feature wasn't working. The Trading Post (auction house) was down. Some people were complaining about disconnects. Many of my guild mates played GW2 in beta, and said it was smooth as silk then and ran as though it were launch ready. They said these issues were not present then, so I have confidence they've been addressed (I haven't got to play in two days due to real life obligations). I did notice on Sunday that many of those problems had been addressed, though the auction house still wasn't up. 

All in all, Guild Wars 2 is a great game. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new MMO experience. And when you start playing, make sure you look everywhere, as you never know what you'll find. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

It Was Never Just a Game

Earlier this week, I found out that an old friend from City of Heroes had passed away. Lucas had left the game long before I did, but his passing affected me greatly. He had always been a fun person to team with, bullshit with, and get ganked by. 

Lucas was a prankster and jokester. No, that's too mild. Lucas made griefing an art form. His first masterpiece was to pull a giant robot, The Kronos Titan, into a Hamidon Raid:

Some folks didn't find it funny, but now it's a Justice server legend. When people complained (at the time), Lucas just shouted "KRONOS IS A HOLD, NOOB!" - a phrase which also became the stuff of legend. In fact, the devs of the game changed the coding so this couldn't happen again, all because of Lucas. 

So tonight, we had a memorial in game for Lucas, and in true Justice fashion, we started with a Hamidon raid. 

After the first round, this happened:

CoH Community Manager Andy "Zwillinger" Belford showed up as the Kronos Titan (a cheat, because of the aforementioned code change), and even announced himself with Lucas's "KRONOS IS A HOLD, NOOB!" I would be lying if I said it didn't bring a tear to my eye. But it also made me laugh, as Zwill made the Kronos indestructible, but able to kill all of us. It was the kind of shenanigans that Lucas loved best. 

But more than this, what touched me is how many old players came back just for this. Many of them had been gone for over two years. Looking to the sea of old friends from Justice drove home that City of Heroes was never "just a game" for us. Though we have had our drama (and not everyone I have met through CoH has been awesome), we are still a big ol' family at the end of the day. We have been there through romances, weddings, babies, funerals, job loss, job gain, and all the moments that make life great. One person tonight remembered Lucas as being very proud of his daughter and her softball team. In other MMOs I play/have played, I barely talked to anyone I met. 

I spent a lot of time playing CoH during my time there, and I spent many, many hours with those great folks. And I miss them all terribly. I am very grateful for the connections I made in game, grateful for meeting John and falling in love. Grateful for all the fun times, and also grateful that I was allowed into their lives so that they were more than pixels to me. 

There was a kind of magic to Justice back in the old days, and I grieve for the loss of it as much as I grieve for my friend. I am both sad that I will never have those days again, and also quite happy that I got to share them with those people in the first place. There has rarely been a better time in my life to use the word "bittersweet." 

Rest in peace, Lucas. I'm not sure what you are up to right now, but as one friend theorized, I'm sure you're showing "meatspin" to the angels. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Review of The Secret World

As I posted on our Google+ and Facebook pages, FunCom hosted a free weekend for The Secret World this past weekend in celebration of being online one month. 

John and I spent the better part of the weekend checking it out, and I gotta say, it's a blast. 

The Secret World is unlike any other MMO I've ever played in terms of the quality of writing, the depth of the story telling, and the gorgeous world maps you're encouraged to explore. It took a bit getting used to playing an "M" rated MMO, but I gotta say that I don't think I could ever go back to playing a "T" rated one again. The freedom to say whatever you want allows for a much richer, deeper, more realistic setting. 

I made a character of each faction to check out the starting zones of each one, but the character I focused on was Zinzanni, a Templar who I was working to make an Exorcist. She had fist weapons (claws) and blood magic, and she was really bad ass.

My main character in City of Heroes was a claws scrapper, so I was reluctant to go down that route. But I wanted to build a deck with blood magic, and the Exorcist was my favorite choice. My first taste of what it meant to play an "M" rated MMO came when I slashed at something with my claws for the first time and blood came out of the target. I actually stopped and stared at the screen for a few minutes before saying out loud "I was robbed of eight years' worth of blood!" 

FunCom ran a promotion this weekend where players could earn 1200 bonus points for the store by completing 30 missions. That wasn't hard to do, and I had a great time spending my points. I bought a new outfit and a dog vanity pet. I then took my dog to the hotel in London, Tabula Rasa, where we enjoyed some quiet time in room 6, which I picked because I'm 12 and the word "sextus" makes me giggle.

This game is not for dummies. If you're looking for a tank-n-spank MMO, this isn't for you. You will have to use your brains, and I was happy more than once to have a functional knowledge of Latin. You have to use the bible to solve one puzzle, Morse Code on another, and have to decode DNA strands for another. My favorite puzzle, however, involved going into anima form (essentially, ghost form) and talking to some white ravens. The voice work was hauntingly beautiful, as was the result of solving it. Don't get me wrong - there is some mindless violence (like the Polaris dungeon), but there are many missions that are all brain power, and I love them so, so much. There is even a built in browser in the game to help you research your clues. This comes in handy if you don't have Wheelock's Latin laying around.

The game does have a few drawbacks for me, however. I miss having a global chat identity, and there doesn't seem to be any way to set up private chat channels for friends (aside from creating a Cabal or teaming up). I don't like that it has a monthly subscription and an item store, something I really hated about CoH that caused me to leave after eight years. It was also hard getting used to a game that doesn't use levels, as I couldn't tell if I was ready for new content or not. In other games, I could look at an enemy and say "Oh, they're 5 levels above me. I'll wait and do that after I advance." In The Secret World, it's not so easy. Your powers and build are the determining factor, and for a new player, it can be quite confusing. However, I was also trying to get as much play in as I could while it was free, and I think that if I had more time to research and experiment, that part would have been better. I firmly believe that my limited play time made the learning curve so much steeper. 

On the whole, the community was great. The only time they weren't great was when I asked for help with a mission and was told "If you're getting killed, your build sucks." Otherwise, they were helpful, friendly, and excited to have new people playing. I did have to silence the chat a few times, as people were posting spoilers after being asked not to. But you have trolls all over the internet, and they're not going away. Unfortunately. 

The game is full of witty dialogue and banter, and I genuinely laughed out loud many times. The voice acting is superb, the cut scenes well done, and the clues very well written. The Secret World takes story telling in an MMO to a whole new level, and future games are going to struggle to match it, let alone beat it. 

I also found it refreshing that the women in this game are not, by and large, sexualized. There was one character in the starting area (Solomon Island) who used her "feminine wiles" to get what she wanted, but she was in reality a real bad ass. The female NPCs are smart, tough, and fully clothed. My favorite NPC on Solomon Island is Norma, a middle aged, grandmotherly woman with shotgun and a bonfire for burning zombies. It is rare, if not unprecedented, to see a character like her in a video game. 

Right now, it's not in my budget to buy it (or pay the monthly sub), but I intend to within the next few months. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves a good cerebral challenge, or anyone who is tired of the same old thing.