Category: New Games

As the content drought in WoW stretches towards a summer wasteland, I was interested to hear about a new MMO that’s just been released. Players in its Beta have been praising it online for ages. As I’ve virtually run out of things to do in WoW until Legion (which hopefully will be sooner rather than later) I thought I’d give this new Black Desert a go. It’s a ‘buy to play’ title, and because of the unctuous praise it’s received, I thought I might as well splash out and buy one of the launch bundles. I envisaged I’d be playing it throughout the summer. The game was advertised – and reviewed – as the ‘new generation’ of MMOs. But sadly, if that’s the case, it looks to me as if the genre is moving backward.

When I play a new MMORPG, I like to be able to pick up the basics fairly quickly. Most I’ve played share a syntax, in that components of their User Interfaces share common elements, so that you know pretty much from the start how to move your character, how to use combat skills, how to access your inventory and so on. Obviously, there are differences between games, but not generally to the extent where you can’t work things out and get into playing straight away. Usually there are good tutorials to help with that too. Whenever I’ve run into an MMO whose UI feels utterly alien to me, and/or the tutorial aspect is lacking, it’s put me off playing. I want the way I operate my characters and interact with the game to feel instinctive, not baffling. Black Desert is absolutely baffling – not just to me but to several other members of my WoW guild who are currently trying to play it.

OK, I accept my own prejudices concerning how I like to play are colouring my views of this game, and it is – I understand – typically Korean in the way it operates. Many players who are currently raving about it online are probably already familiar with that style. But to me Black Desert lacks that familiar syntax I look for in a game, which allows me to immerse myself quickly. The complication of learning completely new systems interferes with that immersion. I feel annoyed at having bought this game, purely on the recommendations of gushing reviews, most of which showed videos of characters in combat within the visually stunning world, and slavered over the character customisation. What wasn’t so obvious in these reviews was how you actually play. If I’d been in the Beta to try the game out for myself, I’d never have bought it. Usually, you can trust reviews that come out of a game’s Beta to at least warn people about the downsides. Perhaps I looked at the wrong reviews.

The default mode of character movement is to use the keyboard – I personally prefer using a mouse for that. The default mode of combat is using the keyboard too, but not through the number keys as in most other MMOs. You might have to use – for example – the F key in combination with the left or right mouse button, or with Shift as well. It often also involves memorising a longer series of ‘combo’ button pressing. I’m used to having quick and easy action bars to access combat skills, which are numbered 1 to 10 and can be activated either by a number key button or the mouse. In BD, you can, to a degree, change the UI so that you can move with the mouse, but it’s clunky. Also, you *can* have a basic action bar of 10 slots, but some skills can’t actually be put on it at all. I had to read several web pages to discover how to put *any* skills on this apparently grudgingly-provided bar, and then discovered that there is a ‘mana tax’ for using it rather than the main key combos. Another MMO I played, Aion, uses skill combos, but much more elegantly, and you learn how to get the best from them as you level and acquire new skills. The combos are baked into the key strokes and don’t require any memorising. In Black Desert you get loaded with new skills that require memorising different key sequences almost from the start. There are only two quests that teach you some basic moves, and there is a pop up video you can elect to have on screen that shows the key sequences. But having to peer repeatedly at this while fighting isn’t good. OK, you’ll learn the sequences eventually but really… why? Just seems needlessly complicated and adds nothing to the common combat mechanics found in other games. The combat system owes more to Street Fighter than to games like World of Warcraft. On top of all this, you have to use the Tab key to swap in and out of combat mode, which is often annoying when you find yourself in the wrong stance, chucking fireballs at a hapless NPC merchant. You have to hit the CTRL key to gain control of your mouse, which you need to do so you can click on elements of the UI. Normally, the mouse only swings the camera about. Again annoying when you have to keep doing it, because camera mode swings back into action constantly. You have to use R to interact with anything. I prefer to use the mouse to click on NPCs, loot, mobs, gathering nodes and so on. I don’t like that combat and interaction with the world are what amounts to different stances, and you can’t do them simultaneously. Constant swapping just becomes a tiresome chore and if you’re the kind of player who prefers always to use the keyboard to move, you’ll no doubt get sick of finding yourself flailing around wildly with your weapon instead of walking up the road.

I suppose that with determination I’d get over this unfamiliar way to play so it would become as instinctive as how I play WoW, Rift, Guild Wars, Aion, Wildstar and others. (Tera I couldn’t bear for the same reason I find BD difficult.) But for me, BD’s failings aren’t just down to combat, movement and interaction. The game simply isn’t newbie friendly. Economy and commerce are a huge part of the game, and very complex, (which will undoubtedly keep the game fresh for a long time for those who master these aspects), but it’s all gobbledegook to me. I’ve only just worked out how to get my horse in and out of a stable and to ride it. I got this mount as part of the bundle I bought, but have little idea how you get a horse otherwise, other than you have to be level 20 and then start taming them in the wild, or something. (That might be completely wrong, by the way.) The intricacies of getting more horses, then breeding them to sell, remains an impenetrable mystery, as does the whole ‘become a successful merchant’ feature. I’ve bought a house but it’s not doing anything. I seem to have bought a farm, or am at least renting it, but have no idea what to do with it now. Workers are mentioned, but I don’t know how to hire them. There are crafting professions but I’ve not found out how to learn them yet. You can apparently build boats, and have trading caravans… somehow. There are different currencies, and a core mini-game to do with earning good reputation with named NPCs, all of which again have to be studied online if you want to understand them properly. And even then, there’s a huge amount of information to take in. What tutorials do exist in game miss out important tips or else the translation to English isn’t quite right. I think lots of breadcrumb quests would have helped, that led players to learn about how to get a horse and cart and fill it with produce from their farms, and then sell it, along with a quest to find and hire workers, and so on. Nothing in this game flows naturally for me.

The developers seem to take for granted that players will be familiar with the style of play, which of course might well be the common MMO syntax in its country of origin. Other Korean games have been franchised in the West, and generally get a makeover to make them comprehensible to their intended market, but sadly I’m still in the dark about how to access most of BD’s features, and I’ve had it for about three weeks now. The difficulty of finding out what you’re supposed to do has put me off playing, so therefore I don’t play as much as I normally would with a new title, and consequently I’m not learning it. Vicious circle. Even searching online hasn’t been the greatest help. I’ve found bemused players trying to get information on forums, often to meet with that tiresome scoffing response from ‘expert’ players, who’ve been with it all the way through the Beta, and who scorn anyone who can’t get their head round the arcanery. I can’t see this MMO doing well in the West. People want to get into a game and get on with it as soon as possible, not have to try and find info online every five minutes about its most basic aspects.

Black Desert doesn’t have end game like the majority of other MMOs – there are no raids and dungeons with their enforced gear ladders. I don’t disapprove of this, and do appreciate it offers a new form of character progression – the idea apparently is that you level constantly in such things as trading, riding, farming and so on. As BD would always be my secondary game, (if I could be inspired to play it more), I don’t mind at all being free of the usual end game activities. Trading and becoming a better horse-woman sound pretty good to me for a game I’d play casually. But I can’t get round the way it works. Some people won’t mind, and will no doubt consider my criticisms trivial, if not misguided, but given the amount of other players we’ve noticed floundering around in the game, I wonder how many will feel like me and simply write off bitterly the cost of buying it.

As for the acclaimed character customisation, while you do get a lot of it in some respects, in others it’s limited. (Aion, I think, still holds the crown for having the best character creation in any MMO I’ve tried.) Classes are restricted to one gender, and one class is the obligatory Anime schoolgirl type, which, with a fair amount of tweaking on the character creation screen, you can just about change enough so she doesn’t look too disturbing. Who plays these deliberately provocative ‘little girl’ characters anyway? I always find them very creepy, if not downright perverted. One of the NPC races in the game is comprised of what look like tiny children, who may or may not really be adults – haven’t worked it out yet – but I found one with facial hair that was quite… odd. I know this sort of thing is common in Far Eastern RPGs, and it’s clearly a cultural thing, but I don’t think it translates well beyond their home countries, and I’m not the only female player who finds the idea of scantily-clad, pre-pubescent girl characters with their knickers showing somewhat repellent. But the downsides of the characters are a minor gripe in comparison to the rest of the game.

To be fair, BD does have a ton of features and activities within it, and the world itself is beautifully designed. I understand it’s huge too, although I’ve barely left the starter area. Because I spent money on it, I’ll persist with trying to learn it for a while longer. I don’t want that money to have been wasted. But I’m disappointed with the lack of guidance. Even its most newbie-hostile aspects could have been tolerable if the tutorials had been thorough and well-written. I’m not averse to trying games that do things differently, but only if I’m given clear instructions on how to play. Black Desert just doesn’t do that for me. At least it wasn’t marketed as a ‘WoW killer’ like other MMOs, because it certainly isn’t. It’s ‘buy to play’ at the moment, with a cash shop, and maybe if it goes ‘free to play’ it’d be worth giving a try. All I can say now is don’t waste your money, unless you’re prepared to spend a lot of time getting to grips with the Korean style of playing, or are already au fait with it.

I’ve not had much to say on my gaming blog for a while, not least because I’d run out of content to do in WoW. I’ve been playing Rift again over the summer, and really enjoying that, not least because of the player housing, which I’ve really got into. Well, player housing is rather a misnomer, as what you get in Rift is not exactly that. You get areas of land called dimensions, which are segments of the actual game world, some large, some fairly small, that you can build upon and transform – in some cases people have done so radically. These dimensions are instanced, but you can set them so that the public can view them, or just friends. Some amazing artwork goes down in these dimensions. I’m only a noob at it; some of the pros, who’ve been doing it for years, are amazing. Yes, you can have a house in your dimensions, which you can build and furnish yourself, but the best ones are when players do things with the landscape, or dream up incredible scenarios, illustrations from books or films, or just their own dreams. So, while WoW has been quiet, that’s been my interest – both building dimensions and spending a lot of time viewing other people’s.

Last week saw the prepatch to Warlords of Draenor arrive, so I’ve been drawn back to WoW, but at the same time (or rather this week), Rift released its new xpac, Nightmare Tide. So plenty to do now in both games. I feel I made rather a mistake abandoning Rift while I threw myself into WoW’s Mists of Pandaria, not least because I used up all the content in Mists and was left with months of nothing to do. When I went back to Rift, there was some catching up to do and I’d cancelled my sub at founder member rate, so would never again be able to have the risibly cheap 5 quid a month sub. Even though Rift is now free to play, I did resubscribe, because the privileges for ‘patrons’ (or subbers) are just too great to do without. If you can afford it, go for it. I believe it’s still a bit cheaper than a WoW sub. I cancelled one of my WoW accounts, just keeping one going so I could visit the guild now and again and meet up with friends. I think now if I’d kept both games going and had divided my time, both Mists and Rift’s xpac Storm Legion would have lasted me perfectly until the games had new content to offer. It’s my plan now to do that. I don’t play as much as I used to, so keeping steadily at both games when I have the time seems best. I enjoy both of them equally, but for different reasons.

Anyway, my thoughts on the WoD prepatch and also Nightmare Tide in Rift.

I’m happy with the changes to my classes in WoW, which in some cases are quite radical. The only one I had any trouble with when doing the new Iron Horde quest chain in Blasted Lands was my priest – but I think that’s down to the fact I don’t play him much anyway so I’m not familiar enough with the playstyle. However, that said, my shaman, who I hardly ever play, did well and seemed far hardier and more powerful than before.

There’s divided opinion over the character model revamp for WoD, which of course came in with the prepatch. I play mainly Night Elf males and Draenei females, and out of the crop these seem to have drawn the short straws with the new faces. Bodies and animations are fine but… I suppose I’ll get used to them. I’m not disgusted enough to turn off the new models and go back to the clunky versions, even though I did prefer the faces.

It’s great we can now go into raids like Firelands and Dragon Soul and zip through them quickly and easily with just a couple of players in a team. Some classes can even solo them. As the mount runs for those raids are on my list, this is a welcome innovation. I’ve done the Iron Horde quests on my main account so now just waiting for WoD to drop. Debating whether to revive the second account, but it seems a bit lavish when I’m playing Rift too.

So on to Rift’s Nightmare Tide. The xpac was delayed a couple of weeks, partly because players on the PTS (public test shards) reported on tons of bugs. I went on there myself and fell foul of a few, literally falling through the world on one occasion! But the bugs seem to have been ironed out. Playing in the first zone hasn’t yet thrown up any horrors to me. Rift’s main theme has always been interaction with the elemental planes, and NT’s theme is the Plane of Water. Those who disliked the zone Vash’jir in WoW’s Cataclysm probably won’t feel entirely comfortable in it. Not all of the zones are underwater, but there are underwater parts to them. And for those who hate the camera giddiness of 3D water combat, never mind edging yourself close to NPC’s and objectives would no doubt hate it. I don’t mind it. The first zone is beautiful, a realm of exposed coral reefs and deep dark pools and grottoes. There are several new water-themed races to encounter, one of which is mer-people, somewhat prettier than the Naga of WoW. Their realm is under attack and we’re there to help them, not least to prevent it drying out completely. (Think WoW’s BC Zangarmarsh type of scenario.) If you bother to read the quest text, the new races have some witty banter about us hairy dry skins! The game play is evenly paced, not too challenging but interesting. Rift was once a PITA for questing, sort of old fashioned in that it was often too difficult with far too much you couldn’t solo. That has changed now, and I’m glad, even if hardcore players whinge about dumbing down. When I’m questing and levelling, I just want to work alone, although it’s fun to group up with others for rifts and other world events. The only gripe I have is that a few quest objectives, such as interacting with certain objects or collecting them, aren’t plentiful enough. This has happened often in WoW too, and is especially annoying at the start of an expansion when hordes of players are about in the starting zone. However, in Rift you can ‘shard hop’, which means crossing from server to server instantly, so on the most problematical quests, I found myself an object I needed to collect/interact with and simply parked at it and shard hopped till I fulfilled the objective. Cheating a bit, but beats riding round and around and around, searching for coral polyps and such like when every other player is doing the same. I’ve really enjoyed the questing so far and annoying quests have been few. The first city you come across, an underwater one, is pretty awesome.

Another new thing in Rift is minions, which is similar to the Garrison followers that will be coming to WoW in WoD. Minions go out on missions for you, such as gathering artifacts (similar to archaeology in WoW), gathering crafting materials, earning notoriety for you (reputation) with game factions and collecting items for your dimensions. I’m only at the start of it, with low level minions who don’t have the most exotic abilities, so not sure if gear rewards come later on. Missions come in various lengths – just a minute to get minion xp, 5-15 mins for slightly better missions, then 8 hour and 10 hour ones, with the longer missions obviously giving better loot. So far it’s been great fun to claim all the rewards. Looking forward to this in WoW also. The game gives you one minion to start off with, but you can buy others in the game store – not expensive either. There’s also an NPC in the game who sells one of each elemental type for 1 platinum each, so again not expensive. Others can be picked up from quests and random drops in the game world. The idea is to match minions to all the quests that pop up in the Minion Window, which are random. You might get a quest such as gathering artifacts from a graveyard, which is a Death mission, so would be best to send an undead minion on that to get the best rewards. If you haven’t got a Death minion you can still do the mission, but a Death minion would be more likely to bring better rewards back to you. The quests and minion matches get more complex as time goes on, so that a mission might do best with – for example – a minion who gets dimension items for you, who is also fire. Some minions have the diplomacy skill so are better for sending off on missions to gain notoriety with the various factions. If the notoriety faction offered for the quest is water-based (very likely at the moment), your best option is to send a minion with both diplomacy and water affinity to complete it. I imagine the trick is to build up your minion collection to match all quest objectives to ensure you reap the fullest benefits from the quests. You start with the ability to send two minions on missions at a time, but can buy extra active minion slots from the game store. You can have as many minions as you like but if you’ve only got 2 slots for missions, only two can be out doing things for you at once. However, if you’re not impatient, two is enough to cycle through the random quests and get nice loot.

Anyway, in summary very happy with both the WoD prepatch in WoW and Rift’s new Nightmare Tide expansion. Can recommend both.

Rift’s new expansion, Storm Legion, was heralded wherever it was possible to herald. Lots of new features were trumpeted and I must confess I was taken in. I bought the new expansion, and at first, exploring harmless things like player housing and the soul tree revamps, all was good.

My Defiant Ranger’s action bars are now clean and mean, and there is less of the bewildering host of skills that had blighted his bars before. Advice is given from the start on how to distribute points and how best to use skills. This is great for a more casual player.  I’ve played Rift since pre-release, when I was introduced to it because I was reviewing it for a webzine, and liked it so much I stayed. But I’ve only played casually on it, since WoW is where I raid, and do all the serious stuff, and I don’t have time to play more than one game at that level. Even so, I’ve enjoyed all the hours I’ve spent in Telara, up until some of my characters hit top level (50 then) and there wasn’t anything interesting for them to do. The idea of a new expansion was great – more content to work through that I could mostly do solo or with public groups.

I can only compare Storm Legion (as an expansion to a major MMO) to Mists of Pandaria. I’m not a blinkered WoW fangirl. I’m quick to complain when I don’t think Blizzard get things right (or make things worse), and perhaps I am sometimes more of a critic than is fair. But Storm Legion to me, in comparison to MoP, is a huge disappointment. It started off well, with a couple of introductory quests in the new zones. I can’t remember how I got there, since later I discovered breadcrumb quests designed to lead a player there, but because I went through a porticulum I found in Ironpines, these quests now don’t work for my main character. So first downside, intro to the new content isn’t that great or that much of a fanfare. We get this new NPC, some queen of something, but frankly I don’t care about her; her goal and schemes haven’t grabbed or interested me at all; she’s just a typical female fantasy NPC in a needlessly skimpy outfit in what appears to be a fairly cold climate. In comparison to what we got in Mists in WoW, this is rather an anti climax, to put it mildly – well except for the boys who are rather turned on by the new queen in the minimal bikini! That aside, the paucity can’t be down simply to money or resources on behalf of the developers, but also creativity, flare and care.

The new landscape I’ve seen in Rift so far is unspectacular and the one Defiants start in is also kind of bleak. The quests don’t involve me in an expanding drama; it’s just down to ‘kill so many of these and these’. Plus, at level 50 with only quest reward gear from previous content, my Ranger is like a wet tissue. His pet is almost dead after two hits from a regular mob. If I get more than one mob on me at once, it’s most likely a case of ‘hello, graveyard’.  I’ve been playing MMOs for eight years or so, and other kinds of RPG and RTS solo games for far longer than that; I’m not a total noob and have got characters to 50 in Rift before this. I just don’t have the time to raid on Rift or to risk dungeons with PUGs (WoW’s community has irreparably scarred me for that), so my gear is hardly the MMO equivalent of designer label, but surely it’s better for all types of player to enjoy as much of a game as is possible for their play time and style? It’s not the difficulty of the mob fights that annoy me in Rift, but simply that I don’t have the gear to survive them easily. OK this is an MMO that’s set itself up to pleasure raiders, the hardcore players, and that’s maybe why its cities are so empty nowadays. We know hardcore players are the minority in the world of MMO gaming. Rift is trying to compete with WoW, by the look of it, but we all know how well pandering to the hardcore went down in WoW. Basically, it lost the game a lot of customers, more customers than most games would consider themselves lucky to have in the first place. If Rift *also* (please note the also), catered for a more casual market, we might not see Free to Play staring us in the face in the not too distant future, which I feel is a distinct possibility, given what appears to be the size of the community. Only a week or so after release of the xpac, the first new zone was empty when I visited it, but perhaps the players are all hidden in raids. As it stands a casual player is going to say ‘oh fuck it’ after dying multiple times on the first quests of the xpac, beneath that dull, lowering sky. They’ll just go back to WoW or other MMOs.

When we started in Jade Forest in WoW, the first quests could be tricky. It got a lot easier 10 or 12 quests in, but even so, it was colourful, story-filled and – most importantly – doable in average gear.  There were even vendors to help players kit themselves out to have more survivability in the new areas, if they lacked it. Storm Legion just feels like a bland blanket of over-tuned mobs, and gods help you if more than one gets to you, unless you’ve been playing Rift since release and are equipped with raid gear. It’s not fun, it’s not even beautiful. Rift excelled in zones such as Gloamwood in the initial release. I’d never seen such a gorgeously executed MMO zone. OK, all I’ve seen of Storm Legion is the first zone, but it’s dull. Just a few treeless hills and some rocks, that’s it.

As a friend said to me as I was moaning about how I’d wasted my money on Storm Legion, that Rift is, and always has been, not that friendly to the casual player. It’s a shame, as there is a lot about the world of Telara I love, and as the sub fees are so reasonably priced (only about £5 a month if you take out the annual sub package), it’s not that expensive to keep up. But if I can’t play the new content, or have to graveyard crawl my way forward slowly in the hope of getting enough quest reward gear to survive better, that’s not going to be a lot of fun. I don’t expect to raid in Rift, but do at least expect, seeing as I bought the game and pay the sub, to be able to do the basic PvE content without too much annoyance or pain, especially when starting off in a new expansion.

No game can get it right for everyone. For those who like their questing tough and challenging, Rift will be perfect, and these are no doubt the kind of players who are part of that world already.  They would inevitably pour scorn on everything I’ve said here. For me, gaming should be fun, and perhaps in that respect I’m a bit lazier than others. When I log on, I feel questing shouldn’t be a constant wipe-fest; save that for raiding.

My sub for Rift runs out in January, and I’m still undecided whether to renew it or not. But ultimately, is it worth paying £5 a month simply to level alts below 50, or hope for some kind of nerf to content if the game does go free to play at some point? I hate to turn my back on virtual worlds where I’ve spent many enjoyable hours, but with games such as GW2 offering such a vastly more pleasurable time, I have even less inclination to visit Telara now. Perhaps this world is where all those disgruntled hardcores ended up, who wept and lamented so vigorously about WoW ‘dumbing down’ and cancelled their subs. If so, I have no reason to be there, since a game catering to that kind of player isn’t going to be my kind of game. Perhaps I just have to accept that, and close the doors on Telara. Part of me will still feel sad and a bit reluctant, though.

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.