Archive for September, 2012


As I’ve already said, in a previous post, I tend to avoid PuG situations where I don’t know people. But tonight late on, being on my Horde characters, and on the whole finding Horde players somewhat more mature than those found in the sewers of Alliance PuGs, I thought I’d risk LFD on my level 41 Druid tank. I have a level 85 Druid tank on Alliance, so am used to playing the class. I thought it won’t be too much of a trial to do a lower level dungeon on this character: I know the class well, what can go wrong?

Enter: humans.

I found myself thrust into Dire Maul in the middle of a fight, literally. Their previous tank must have left in a hurry. Perhaps a bad sign? OK, got bearings, sorted it, recovered and fought. Told the group, it’s been a long time since I was here, guys, really can’t remember the way, and I know a lot has changed, so please guide if you do know it. Seemed to be no problem. No one actually answered, but also no one actually swore at me.  We went our way through the place, a rogue also saying he was not sure of the way, and we went to a place where something used to happen, but doesn’t now, but still all was good. Then there was this one team member. ‘Why aren’t you keeping up, tank? You are a slacker. FFS’. And so on. At first I said, jokingly, my bear’s legs were too short, I was too heavy, but humour simply bounced off this delightful player with no effect. I wasn’t deliberately slow, but this guy was zooming ahead like there was no tomorrow. After a few rather heated exchanges I just said, ‘look, you are rushing like this is the end of the world or something. Chill, maybe? Wait the 3 seconds for me to catch up?’ Then, after more abusive comments, I simply quit group with the remark to the silent other team members, who had elected not to stick up for me, or even to agree with my detractor: ‘really can’t play with adolescent males, cheers guys and good luck.’

I wouldn’t mind if I was crap as a tank. I’m not. I wouldn’t mind if I stood in the fire, did stupid things, pulled unwisely and all the rest of it. I am a competent tank. But being competent is not enough now. I didn’t rush fast enough in an instance I didn’t know. That was all.

All this just goes towards my opinion that Hell is Other People. I love MMOs. I actually do want to play with others, not all the time, but a good part of the time. If I had a lot to learn, fair enough, I’d be armouring my back for the abuse, but even if you know your class and perform well, it’s still not enough to ensure an easy, insult free run. Now I’m feeling like I won’t poke my head above the ramparts again and dare to PuG on my Horde tank. My thicker-skinned friends tell me I should ignore the occasional knob you get in PuGs, but sadly I find it hard. I want to enjoy playing, and you can never guarantee the team you end up with in a PuG comprises decent human beings. At least this recent event is pale in comparison to the one where I had to endure a whole instance of expletives against me because I tried to help a team member with an achievement.

But I’m still here, still playing. Our guild is tiny on Horde, so if I want to progress PuGs are the only way. I expect my skin will thicken again over the next few days and I might try again. Erm, this is supposed to be fun, a game you play for pleasure, right? I know what my Alliance guild mates will say. ‘Why the hell are you bothering?’ I’m bothering because I want to believe MMOs have more decent players than sociopaths. I want to believe we don’t have to exist in gated communities, i.e. guilds. But, by all the gods, it’s hard to keep that belief alive sometimes. Referring back to my earlier post: something has to change, surely?

On a more positive note, have seen the good side of Cross Realm intimacy tonight. Our guild went to Ironforge after our mount runs, and typical Friday night old raid stuff, because someone told us this city was open to Cross Realm. We found players from several different realms there, who were mostly pretty open to interacting, chatting, having fun. At one point we had a little camp of cooking fires, parasols, archaeology toys, other gizmos, and so on, with everyone dancing around them. Made a few new friends too. Really like this aspect of X Realm and hope it stays. Someone told us the quieter cities being X Realm is a bug that will be fixed, but I hope not. There are several things I really don’t like about X Realm, but this new sociable aspect in the quieter cities makes up for it. Hope it’s here to stay.

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It’s quite obvious, when you talk to people who play MMOs, that a large percentage of them prefer solo content, unless they’re with people they already know and trust. Even when they do have a lot of friends in-game, quite often there will be times when they simply want to do their own thing, on their own. Many are glad when difficult content becomes soloable as they level and gear up and don’t have to team with others to conquer it, if they’re after mounts or achievements from such endeavours. I’ve seen the rather baffled objection, ‘but surely, if you play an MMO, a Massive Multi-Player online game, other people are part of the deal. If you don’t like playing with others, go play a solo game.’ But that’s missing the point.

I don’t like playing solo games. I actually enjoy being part of a dynamic, well-populated virtual world. I’m probably less tolerant of badly-behaved players than others might be, and I do tend to avoid situations where I have to be exposed to players I don’t know, in potentially volatile situations, such as pickup groups for dungeons. But conversely, I want to be playing in a world full of other people. Sometimes, I just don’t want to mix with them. It’s not as if, in real life, you do every single thing, every day, with everybody else on your street, is it? But it’d be pretty horrible (for most, anyway), if your house was the only one occupied on that street, or even in the neighbourhood, or the whole town… That would get pretty lonely to say the least.

The thing I dislike most about the majority of MMOs I’ve sampled is the aspect of ‘enforced teaming’, where in order to progress significantly you have no choice but to rely on the co-operation of other players in formally organised teams. But I have seen alternatives, in both Rift and Guild Wars 2, which demonstrate what could be a better way forward for MMOs. Rift didn’t and doesn’t have it down perfectly. The big public events were great when I first played the game, but they got old, simply because they don’t advance your character that much. To be able to tackle even the end game dailies (or some of them), you need dungeon or raid gear, which means taking part in formal team events, which inevitably require research, precise gearing etc etc and all the crap that comes with dipping your toes into PuG waters, never mind the time commitment. Unfortunately, the innovative public events that set Rift apart, and which anyone can join, don’t award much at all. I thought this was a great shame, and it’s contributed to me not playing Rift much anymore, simply because I don’t have time to raid in two games, nor even be part of an active guild in my secondary game. The end zone of Rift, the new island that was introduced in a content patch some time ago, is painful unless you have really good gear. All the mobs are two levels higher than max level for characters, and Rift mobs typically have a lot more bite than WoW mobs, even at equal level. Ouch. Other MMOs I dip into, I do for fun, on a very casual basis. WoW is where I raid and do more ‘serious stuff’. I don’t want that anywhere else. Some players don’t even want that in one game. They love playing MMOs, but they will never be raiders, and why should they be? The most ground-breaking MMO, should it ever appear, will not just revolve around raiding, which comparatively few players see.

So far in GW2 the public events seem better than in Rift. They are more like quests, or scenarios, rather than the Rift model of everyone just piling in and galloping across the landscape, killing various mob groups and bosses. There are objectives to follow, and you don’t even have to team with the others doing it as well. You can all help each other out, for example, by popping down a healing AoE, as my Ranger can, since I’m currently using that particular healing skill for him from a choice of a few. All characters get such choices. AoE effects heal allies, regardless of whether you’re teamed or not. It’s actually fun to join in, because there’s no stress about who’s tanking or healing, or how much dps anyone’s doing. It’s just a case of going for the objective, with as many or as few as you have with you and, from what I’ve perceived so far, the events seem to tailor themselves automatically, difficulty-wise, depending on how many are involved. While you don’t get gear rewards from such events, you do get karma points you can spend on buying gear from various NPCs, as well as fairly decent experience and cash. Quite often, completing the objectives will also help with a task you might be engaged in for an NPC; i.e. the mobs you might have to fight off will be the same as for the task you’re on. Two birds with one stone is always handy!

I really like this way of working. You can solo as much as you like, then take part in public events if you happen upon one, or you could spend an evening actively tracking them down – they are going on constantly throughout the world of Tyria. But it is down to choice. If you don’t feel like it, you don’t have to take part. Rift had this too, while levelling, but in that game the casual player does run into an immense progression wall at top level. Even though Instant Adventures were introduced, which were instanced scenarios for one to four (I think) players, frankly they are not soloable with the kind of gear I had. The cool thing about them was that you could join a queue, like LFD, to do them. When you joined the queue, there was a countdown to the adventure starting, and ideally others would be queuing too, so you’d have help to do them. An entire zone would be instanced for you, with several objectives to complete. Sadly, the few times I put myself in a queue to do them, I rarely had other people joining me, so it was just a pointless wipefest. The times I did have companions it was great fun. It’s a pity, but Rift’s population has declined significantly, I think. In a well-populated game like WoW those Instant Adventures would be great.

In Rift, playing at top level grinds to a halt, unless you’re willing to take the game more seriously and commit to the activities that are de rigeur for most MMOs at the moment: raiding and heroic dungeons (or the equivalent). I really think this has to change. I would go so far as to say that Rift has foundered – and perhaps others MMOs too – because it has designed itself primarily around raiding as end game content, presumably emulating WoW with its vast subscribership. But Rift has nowhere near the population of WoW to sustain it. As has been amply demonstrated, raiders comprise a minority of MMO gamers; they just happen to be the most vocal on the Internet. I’ve no doubt that if Rift had been less focused on this activity, and its small, non-raiding end game content had been less punishing for those who hadn’t got really good gear, (or could at least have worked for that gear through other means that weren’t rep grinds from hell), the cities would not be so dead now. (Just as a note, the rep grinds for factions was approximately twice what it is to reach exalted with one in WoW, and with rather meagre ways to earn it… outside of dungeons and raids, of course.) I believe that in any MMO, group activities should be there for those who enjoy doing them, but for the vast army of players who like to do things alone, teaming with others occasionally with no pressure, there should be other avenues at end game.

So far, in GW2, the gear I’ve bought with karma points gets better as you progress through higher level zones, although you do have to keep on top of it, and make sure you upgrade your gear by playing in zones appropriate to your level, otherwise your major ‘personal story’ instances become more challenging than perhaps they need to be. But if you do keep abreast of it, the gear in the zones seems to me to be the equivalent of dungeon gear in other MMOs. There is even, once out of your starter areas, two levels of gear to buy, one more expensive, and better, than the other. NPCs who give you tasks around the landscape will each offer a particular piece of gear. They’re not rewards. You buy them with karma points, which are bit like valor points, only gained through doing tasks and solo instances. Group instances only become available at level 36 – or so I’m told! The instances I’m doing at the moment (level 33 on my Ranger) are story-based, per character, and soloable, although I believe you can team with others of your class to do them. I’ve not tried that. I’ve treated GW2 rather like Diablo 3. Keep plugging at it, even if I wipe a bit!

The one thing that dynamic public events need to work is a healthy player base. If the zones are empty, they are useless. No one can solo the end parts of such events with elite mobs to fight. So while these dynamic events are a fantastic idea in a thriving realm, if numbers are down they are just redundant.

I know Blizzard is doing much to implement end-game-changing aspects in Mists, but until we play it, we won’t really know how successful that is. The bottom line is that raiders are a minority in any game, even if they tend to have the loudest voices on forums. While I personally love raiding in WoW, as I’m sure raiders in all other games love it as well, I don’t get why big teams should be the only way to go in MMOs. In real life, someone can work alone somewhere and produce an amazing invention that changes the world, or produce incredible art, or any number of world-enhancing things. It seems odd to me that in MMOs, virtual worlds that in many ways mimic reality, we are forced into certain ways of advancement. Surely, the most innovative virtual world will see beyond this. The whole model of MMOs at the moment breeds among players disrespect, resentment, anger, selfishness, and as many other bad traits as you might care to mention. It’s because of the way they’re designed, with competitive acquisition being the ultimate goal. There must be a way to encourage co-operation without all that fallout, so that people enjoy the company of strangers, and perhaps make new friends, rather than reach for the Ignore button with a weary sigh. Well, there are ways, such as Rift’s Instant Adventures, but you do need a healthy population for those. They are not about epeen, just teaming informally to have… well… adventures. What’s not to like?

Both Rift and Aion have solo and duo dungeons, which again are a great idea, but of course take resources to create. The proposed idea of Proving Grounds in WoW is equally good, should it see the light of day. As described by the developers, these will be solo events, tailored so that participants will be encouraged to use every aspect of their characters – perhaps even skills they didn’t even know they had. As it’s so easy to get to top level in WoW now without learning your class in the greatest of depth, this is a superb idea. What would make it perfect, in my opinion, is a tutorial mode for it, so that all those hapless newbies are given an easy version that introduces them to all those skills they never use. Once they’ve tried that, and emerge victorious, then throw the hard stuff at them. They should have the tools to tackle it then, even if it requires a lot of trial and error to succeed. Difficulty is fine, as long as the education is provided to help people deal with it. WoW doesn’t actually educate its players much at the moment. If Proving Grounds could be entered at different difficulties, top level players could test themselves there to see how they’re doing and newbie players could learn their class. These could be far more creative ways of testing your ability and judging whether your gear is appropriate than using training dummies. A far more interesting way to prepare yourself for other group activities, such as dungeons and raids, in that newbies could then approach such activities with more knowledge of how their class works, and therefore be less subject to abuse from the contingent of PuGs who are eager to criticise others. For veterans, they would simply be a way to judge how their characters are performing and perhaps to help with fine-tuning.

The best thing about MMOs is the fact you share the game with perhaps millions of others, but that is also the worst aspect of it. You can’t guarantee meeting the people you’d like to meet while playing. And everyone has different aspirations in a virtual world. Hell is other people. Too many with different goals, desires and requirements. I believe Blizzard is trying to address this difficult issue – let’s face it, it’s never going to be easily solvable – and I think NCsoft/ArenaNet are too. But there’s still a long road to travel.

I noticed a column on WoWinsider – where I find many interesting ideas that get my imagination going – about whether there will ever be a World of Warcraft 2. http://wow.joystiq.com/2012/09/10/do-we-need-a-world-of-warcraft-ii/

We’ve just had Guild Wars 2, and there was once an Everquest 2. Is a bona fide sequel likely or even needed for WoW?

One thing that people tend to bang on about concerning WoW is the game engine and the quality of the graphics. I don’t think it’s relevant to compare WoW’s unique ‘look’ to any other game. There are plenty that go for a more realistic appearance, the new Guild Wars among them, but WoW has never pretended to be anything other than what it is; quite stylised with a ‘look’ of its own and, well frankly a bit cartoony. The game has professed to be friendly to those with less than top of the range computers, although as time goes on, that statement is starting to look a bit wobbly. There are at least two people in our guild who will face problems with running Mists on their machines. So if WoW is going to go that way – and no one who’s visited the Beta can deny the new graphics for Mists are gorgeous – why not go the whole hog?

My take on it is that Blizzard has lots of mileage yet in the lore of Azeroth. (This is not about raiding, before anyone calls me on that; it’s about the world of Warcraft.) It gets ever more complicated with a cast of thousands, and people into fantasy love that kind of complexity and depth. You only have to look at the success of fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin to see that. There are heaps of lengthy fantasy series, (some of better quality than others), but sometimes an author gets it right and ends up with ‘fans for life’; people who are really into their created world. WoW shares this feature. There are novels and comics as spin offs. There is also the much discussed possibility of a movie. The lore continues in the stories that are ‘off stage’ and sometimes those stories are brought into the game also. That is a living, dynamic fantasy world.

WoW has been a victim of its own success in many ways. As one commentator mentioned on WoWinsider, it might be that even Blizzard themselves are astonished at, or were at least unprepared for, the longevity of the game. Is it possible they envisaged at least a slight tailing off by now? And yet the game is still going strong, and I’m quite sure that come Mists it will be even stronger.

As a Blue Poster (or Blizzard employee) said in response to a question about the possibility of a WoW 2, it would be more likely the world of Azeroth would simply continue to be explored through content patches, with updates to the technical aspects as part of that. That to me would make sense. Yes, there are areas that blatantly need attention (characters models, anyone?), but these could be attended to within the game we have now. I don’t see a need for a WoW 2; just an update on certain technical aspects of the game.

 I never played Everquest, so am not in the position to discuss what Everquest 2 must have felt like to its players. All I can say, once being a devotee of Guild Wars 1, is that Guild Wars 2 is a strange animal in some respects, but not in a bad way. It’s set on the same planet. I’ve found myself looking for landmarks in the world, such as the city of Ascalon. I found its ruins, and the race now fighting to reclaim it from its swarming and aggressive ghosts are the Charr, who were once its sworn foes. GW2 is almost like a post-holocaust story. The world is very much changed. It seems a long way in the future of the lore I remember. Humans have lost their hold, and other races, such as the Charr, are now staking claim to territory.  There are familiar markers – an outpost with the same name, a field, a river – but then nothing is the same as well. I’ve been walking through the Shiverpeaks, where I once spent a lot of time, but the winds and snows have scoured everything away. It’s a new landscape now, and new people live within it. Just here and there is a remnant of the past. This in itself demonstrates the emotional impact of a game world, a virtual world. I once spent a lot of time in Tyria. Now, I feel like a visitor, when once I was a resident. Perhaps, with time, I will feel at home there again.

These aspects and experiences for the player work well in the new Tyria, simply because the story (and change) feels credible, but I don’t think such a future would work as well for Azeroth. We already have a host of races in WoW with a huge history. It wasn’t like there were ever only just humans, as there was in Tyria. The Charr have come a long way from the primitive creatures they were in GW1. Arriving in Tyria now, with a memory of its original, you get a sense of much time having passed and cultures evolving. There were no Asura on Tyria before – the equivalent of Gnomes with their bizarre technology – and no Silvari, that we knew of. This world you tumble into now is a new place, but with a history. Azeroth already has that history. What exists is more than enough to build upon and evolve. Unless Blizzard really wanted to overturn the cart, and do rather more than just a cataclysm. A Complete Undoing. A new world arising from that, with new races, new mutations, new alliances and so on. But really, is that needed?  There are so many directions the current story could take. There could be a shifting in alliances, new factions arising, different politics. Cold Wars, espionage, fragile connections, betrayals and dooms. And whatever naysayers might claim, the reappearance of old lore figures would be greeted rather than deplored. If it went to a vote, how many would want Illidan back as a major player, and not just a memory from the past?

Again, I can’t speak for Everquest, but what I’ve seen in GW2 is an epic reimagining that brings Tyria up to the standards of other MMO virtual worlds. It had its limitations before, but I love the way the developers have kept a ghost of that past in the new world. I’m sure as I explore, like an archaeologist, I will find many other familiar, if time-eroded, sites. I think WoW is doing fine as it is, and I feel confident its deficiencies will be addressed for as long as it continues to be popular. Eventually, something else will come along, whether Blizzard’s new MMO Titan, or something that zaps like a meteor out of left field. For now I think we have a lot to be pleased about on the MMO scene; more than a few good games around, some of which will survive longer than others. But you can bet for sure that WoW will be one of the survivors.

First Thoughts on Guild Wars 2

I was a massive fan of the first Guild Wars. It was what got me into MMOs proper and eventually led me to WoW. Sadly GW1 sort of petered out for me. I lost interest before the expansions came out and even though I later bought them, the year or so I’d spent in WoW had somehow spoilt the love I’d once had for Tyria. I never really got into the expansions.

However, as we are now in the worst WoW lull in living memory, waiting for Mists of Pandaria, and GW2 has just come out, it seemed a good time to sample the game and see what it was like. I never believe the hype surrounding new MMOs nowadays. I get sick of all the blather from the supposed WoW killers, who then fizzle out embarrassingly and go free to play.  Star Wars: The Old Republic really thought it was in with a chance, and was trumpeted as such, but where is that now? Gone free to play. Games like Rift and Aion, which I do like, hang in there because they have devoted followers, but really the last time I visited Rift the cities were moribund. So, will GW2 be a contender to share WoW’s crown (I really don’t believe another game can take it) or not?

GW2 is buy to play, which means you just buy the box or digital copy and you’re good to go. There is no monthly sub. But… there is a game store, and because any MMO has to finance its ongoing content provision, we can expect there will be a lot of attractive, if not game-enhancing, things eventually to be had through the store. However, for now, it’s not an issue. You can buy the game and play it fully at the moment and not pay a bean extra. If you intend to stick with it for years, then yes, you’ll find yourself dipping into your pocket, but it depends on how much you want to invest into the game. It can be played enjoyably as it is, and perhaps just left, as I left the original, when you get to the end of current content. It’s not an expensive game – although bizarrely the digital version is more expensive than the boxed, and forget the Collector’s edition, that’s just over priced – so if you’re bored while waiting for Mists of Pandaria, this could fill your weeks admirably with much fun, and you might also be tempted to keep dipping in even after Mists is out. There’s no sub with GW2 so you can play it and when you like with no additional fee.

My first thought when entering the revamped Tyria was that I was overwhelmed. There is a lot to learn from the start, and nothing is like the original Guild Wars. The UI and game play are also very different to WoW, Rift and Aion, which sort of share a common UI syntax, so that players can get into the games smoothly and without fuss. The first few times I played GW2 I wondered whether I could in fact get into it, because things were so different. I’m used to clicking on NPC’s, loot, and well just about everything, to interact with a game world. In GW2 you use the ‘F’ key for all of this. That took some getting used to. The game is complex, you can’t fault it there, but you can feel rather swamped when you first start. It’s beautiful, so you can amble incompetently about trying to pick things up, and I found the chat in the general channel generally had lots of questions and answers that helped me also.  You have different skills depending on what weapons you have equipped; and I’m still wrestling with that a bit. It’s often not obvious what you have to do to access new skills, or in the case of Rangers, even new pets. I just fiddled about, and continue to do so, until I discover by accident the right manoeuvres to get what I want.

My first character was a Charr Necromancer. Charr were a ‘baddy’ race in the original GW, a catlike people who were just well, beasts. Now, they have somehow acquired a kind of steampunk aesthetic and technology, so the leap from animals to engineers is rather a large one. Their city, the Black Citadel, is amazing and will appeal to anyone who’s into the steampunk vibe. My Charr reminds me very much of my Worgen girls in WoW. She even runs on all fours the same way. Like a worgen, but a cat creature instead. I love the race; they are what you’d call uncompromising. The females are probably what all the people who moaned about the female Worgen character models would like their WoW characters to look like.

My second character, because I’ll just have to try all races eventually, (being an altoholic), was a Silvari Ranger. I do find him a bit repulsive, I must admit, poor thing. There is an aspect of ‘Uncanny Valley’ in many of the GW2 characters and this one, while not being that human at all, is a bit too real for comfort sometimes. He’s sort of elvish, yet born from a tree, so apparently made of wood, with leaves for hair, and I get the distinct impression if someone trod on him, revolting yellow stuff would come out. I’m getting used to him now, but even though I tried to make him attractive when I created him, he did make me shudder for a few days, every time I logged him on. He’s pretty too, but just… bizarre. There is a stack of fighting pets for Rangers to collect in GW2, as there are for Hunters in WoW. They all have different abilities, and one cool thing is that if your current pet dies, you can call another from the 3 active pets you have with you. This is like a cross between Hunter pets and the forthcoming pet battles in WoW. Again, you have to get used to the fact you have different skills for different weapons, but thankfully it didn’t take me long to work out how to equip a bow. When you equip a new weapon(s) you have to play for a while to ‘skill up’ with them. You learn skills as you use those weapons, so if you try out a new set at a bad moment you might find yourself with only one skill to use. This is just something you have to learn about and be aware of. The Silvari city is immense and on multiple levels and reminds me very much of the world of Avatar. It is very beautiful, if somewhat confusing to navigate.

Character number three was a Norn Elementalist. Norns are based upon Norse culture, and out of the three races I first tried, I found this one (for me) to be the easiest story to follow and the least confusing. But of course this might have been because I was getting used to the game. Their home city is huge and icebound but also I thought easier to navigate than the Silvari’s ‘Grove’ and the Charr’s ‘Black Citadel’. Perhaps this is because it doesn’t seem to be on so many confusing levels one above the other, with ramps and elevators up and down all over the place. Norns can be big hulking Barbarians if that’s what you want, but my Elementalist is a flame-haired, svelte girl; I just preferred her that way. I’m currently using Fire with her, as her main element, but while playing my Charr tonight, I was fighting alongside an Elementalist in a public event who was using Water and that seemed to be far more effective than what I remember of GW1. Fire was the only spec worth using then.

Speaking of public events, there are a lot of them. Like Rift, if you take part, you get spoils, and depending on how much you do towards achieving victory, you get a bronze, silver or gold level of completing it. Unlike Rift, you don’t have to join a public team to take part. If you’re passing by, and there are some players dealing with some kind of attack or invasion, you can elect to join in or not.

Another cool feature is the revive ability. Any player (or friendly NPC) who dies nearby to you, you can press the all-encompassing ‘F’ key to resurrect. If you’re in a big fight, people are happy to resurrect all the time. But before death happens, if you should fall to a foe, you get the opportunity to ‘fight for your life’. You are given 4 skills to attack foes around you, in a last gasp attempt, from the floor, to take them down. If there are other players nearby, this often succeeds and you ‘rally’ or spring back to life.

Quests aren’t just exclamation points or similar over NPCs about the landscape. When you enter a zone, you’ll see various marks on the map indicating activities to take part in. This might be exploring ‘points of interest’ or seeking hard to reach ‘vista’ points, which give you splendid panoramic views of the landscape. There will be areas where a difficult mob might provide an extra skill up and there will also be NPCs who need your help. These are indicated on the map by empty hearts. Once you seek out those NPCs and start doing the tasks to win their favour, you will eventually have a solid heart displayed on your map to show you’ve helped that particular person/people. I would imagine it’s advisable to do all of these tasks, before moving on to a higher area. Once you get favour with an NPC they have special items for sale, which you can buy with ‘karma points’. These are accrued by helping people.

Much of your personal storyline is instanced, and some are quite difficult, at least for the newbie. As I’m still in starter areas with my characters I haven’t got to the point where an instance requires more than one person to complete. GW1 was notorious for having log jam points in the game, where players fetched up in a pile at a point in the game where the difficulty of the mission (or instance) meant it was hard to progress. In GW1 you had to move through different instances to advance through the game. Its successor doesn’t seem to follow that model, although I am still at the beginning, so it’s hard to tell.

I took my Silvari Ranger travelling to see what pets I could find. In the original game there was a major town called Lion’s Arch, which was reached after a particularly challenging instance. It was the only place where you could purchase guild halls, and had other really important features. I can still remember the words ‘Welcome to Lion’s Arch’ at the conclusion of that instance, accompanied by such a sense of relief, you were almost sobbing; you really worked for that major hub town. Now, I am somewhat surprised to discover that every major city has a portal gate to Lion’s Arch. If you pass through it, you find yourself in an area where there are portal gates to all the starter areas of the game for the different races. Fantastic for the newbie pet hunter. I went into the Human area, and found their capital city, Divinity’s Reach. This is what Stormwind in WoW should have been, or what we might wistfully hope for. It’s absolutely immense and gorgeously designed. Again it’s constructed on many levels and rather confusing on a first visit.

There are many more things I might mention about the game, but really you should give it a try. Yes, it is overwhelming to start with, and I haven’t even thought about things like professions – I’m still trying to get to grips with how my characters function – but the world is beautiful, there are myriad things to do in the landscape, and the many quests, or tasks as we should properly call them, aren’t about simply killing x number of creatures, or gather y number of items. They are far more inventive than that. As an example, in the Norn starter area, you will turn into various animals to complete shamanic sorts of tasks. As a newbie Charr you might find yourself servicing defective rat traps and clearing up workshops, or gathering up mortars and throwing them at invaders. Sometimes you might find yourself thrown on your back by faulty technology. The tasks are varied, and the ongoing story lines interesting.

So far I’m impressed, but I was also impressed with other games that eventually lost their charm. I can say though that the start of GW2 is huge and varied. Even if you only elect to play one character you can visit all the starter areas and be involved in the story lines. The game will adjust your level to be appropriate for your location, i.e. if you’re level 6 in a level 4 area, you will be adjusted to level 4. This is an interesting way to do things because it means you can enjoy lots of zones without getting to that stage of out levelling them so all the quests give no experience. It also means you’re never without a challenge. I don’t think GW2 is as difficult as Rift could be for low level characters, but it is harder than WoW. I’ve found myself ‘fighting for my life’ a lot, but not to the point where it’s annoying. Half the time I end up in trouble by not being careful enough. The voice acting is a bit dodgy though; I find myself wincing a lot. Some races work better than others and I must confess I find the American-accented races don’t work the best. I think the reason for this must be that the American accent sounds so contemporary and ‘real world’. European accents seem to work better for fantasy, perhaps because on an unconscious level they sound ‘antique’ or something.

Anyway, on a score of 1 – 10, GW2 is a 9.  Absorbing, beautiful and full of lots of things to do, but not easy for a newbie, and if you’ve never played an MMO before I don’t think you’d last 5 minutes.

We all know Blizzard makes some apparently arbitrary and inexplicable decisions sometimes. Other times, we get the reasoning behind what they do, and have to grudgingly concede there is a point. But maybe we have a point too.

What I’m talking about is the removal of certain guild perks. I only know of two of them, one being Chug-a-Lug, the other being Have Group, Will Travel. The former used to increase cauldron buff lengths by 50% and an upgraded version of 100%, which was very handy for raid teams. Maybe there are some astounding Alchemy secrets to be revealed in Mists, but at the moment I can’t really understand why this one was removed. If anyone can shed light on this for me, please do!

The other perk removal is more contentious. Have Group, Will Travel’s mass summon had so many uses. If you were levelling an alt out in – say – Nagrand and asked in guild chat for some sympathetic soul to come help you do the Ring of Blood quests, the additional offer of a summon meant you were likely to get an ‘OK’ more often than not. If someone has to travel all the way to Nagrand to help with a few quests – and the journey might take as long as 15-20 minutes, depending on where they are, hearthstone cd situation and so on – they have to take a big chunk out of their game time and whatever they happened to be doing when you asked. Northrend is probably even worse, since you have wait ages for boats or zeppelins unless you’ve left your hs in Dalaran, (as many still elect to do), or have one of the few other quick means of travel to get there.

HGWT was great if you needed to get a few people together quickly for whatever task. Guildies could be summoned instantly to help, without inconveniencing them too much. I’ve also used it, when playing lonely alts on another realm to my main one, to summon main realm guildies into the beginning of an instance to boost me through it. There are literally dozens of other examples I could give where that guild perk was used by me or other people to get help quickly or to gather people up for an event. We do mount runs sometimes, and those are spread out all over the place – Onyxia, Tempest Keep, Malygos. HGWT was brilliant for those evenings. It meant we spent more time killing bosses than travelling to get to them.

That’s before we even mention the convenience of herding people into a raid. How we cheered to see the back of the days when two people had to stand there at the meeting stone and summon everyone individually. Pain! It was almost as bad if we had a tame warlock in the team. You couldn’t summon everyone en masse and that again just wasted time.

For our more casual raiding activities, such as old content on a Friday night, people kept logging on as the evening progressed and could be summoned quickly to wherever we were. Now, as those guildies log on, we’ll have to say, ‘oh we’re right in the middle of Black Temple/Ulduar/insert out of the way, old sprawling raid of your choice. Really don’t want to run back to the start. Can you make your own way over?’ That’s surely going to go down well.

If we’d never had the perk, we’d never miss it, but it’s a different story when Blizzard gives us such a huge quality of life improvement and then just snatches it away. But there has to be a reason or reasons for it. My own conclusions concern three issues in particular, given the scant things I’ve read about it.

1. Blizzard don’t want people summoning lower level players to Pandaria. Fair enough, but a warlock and two friends could easily do that too. And really, why would anyone want to do that and why would it matter if they did?

2. World bosses. Perhaps this is the main reason. If the perk remained, big guilds could have had scouts out every evening searching for the world bosses and the minute they spotted one they could have summoned an entire 25 man raiding team to its location. I can see that Blizzard would want to discourage that. It would mean that it would be much harder for smaller guilds, or guildless people who’d have to join pugs for such fights, to even get a look in. At least not until the big guilds lost interest.

If this has contributed greatly to the loss of HGWT I think that’s partly down to the way Blizzard are implementing the world bosses. To me, it would have been better if they’d emulated the Rift take on it (and I believe Guild Wars 2 has similar, not tried it yet). Public events are exactly that. In Rift, if you are near to one you get an invite on screen to join a public group, which you can accept or decline as you wish. You don’t even have to ask to join a team; it’s that simple. Anyone who takes part in the fight gets a reward for it, although I believe people who do the most ‘work’ get a bigger or better share. No single guild can camp or hog bosses because anyone can join in. You even get a notification in chat to tell you when and where a big event is about to start so you can head to the relevant zone if you want to. These are dynamic public events, and I wish WoW would be getting something similar.

3. PvP. If this is the reason, as some have suggested, perhaps Blizzard could just remove HGWT from PvP realms so they can all beat each other up more conveniently, or however it is they get their jollies.

I don’t buy the reason that HGWT’s removal ‘ will get people out in the world more’. It won’t. As far as raids are concerned, people will simply use taxis, or wait for the two people who did to use the summoning stone. There isn’t going to be some kind of Canterbury Tales caravan of individuals, telling tales to one another as they amble jovially along the roads to an instance. And people who still feel moved to travel for ages to help out a friend will try to work out the quickest route and fly.

But anyway, suppositions aside, I shall mourn the loss of HGWT as will my guild mates and friends. It would have been easier if we’d never had it. I know for us it will curtail a certain amount of co-operation between players, because people simply might not have time or inclination to travel all the way across Azeroth to help with a difficult quest or boost someone through a dungeon. I hope Blizzard relent about it, and I know I’m not alone in that.