Tag Archive: new mmos

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.

While WoW is the game I play the most, I also dabble in Rift – less so since WoD as I’m kept busy in WoW with what game time I have. I’ve kept visiting Telara, the world of Rift, over the past six months; tinkering about because I do love the atmosphere of that world. Nightmare Tide, Rift’s latest xpac, came out a short while before WoD, so I played it pretty relentlessly during the weeks I was waiting for WoW’s new xpac to hit, knowing I wouldn’t be spending as much time in Telara thereafter. I didn’t manage to get a character to level cap in that time, but recently – having levelled nearly all of my 20 Nordrassil WoW characters to 100, and a bit quested out with Draenor – thought I’d grind out the last two levels on my main in Rift with the benefit of some hefty experience potions.

One thing that struck me when I went back to Rift to level was that I didn’t feel as immersed in the game world as I do in WoW. I think this is partly down to the nature of the Nightmare Tide xpac – we were carted off to the dimension of Water to help out with various calamities, but our faction leaders and familiar figures from Telara didn’t come to fight alongside us or appear constantly as such figures do in WoD. Consequently, you feel sort of isolated from the main world. In WoW, we have a lot of well known figures from Azeroth making the journey with us to Draenor – some of them lose their lives for it – but as a Defiant player in Rift, I missed those old faces, such as Asha Catari and The Faceless Man. It didn’t feel like the faction was doing anything *together*. The new races in the Plane of Water don’t appeal to me that much. The mermaids are cool, and so is the strange aquatic beast, Fenric, who isn’t quite what they appear, (that character is probably the best), but there isn’t much characterisation otherwise. Fenric is the only NPC who travels with you throughout the story, changing and growing themselves, much as Yrel does in WoD. But Fenric is a one off. The ruling class in Draumheim, the major city hub, are all bonkers, living in hallucinations and delirium, and their madness started getting on my nerves rather than amusing me. I didn’t warm to any of them. The baddies are just out and out baddies, generic RPG almost, spouting clichéd lines and lacking the nuances of the Draenor warlords, with their distinct characters.

I also missed the levelling experience of WoD. We take so much for granted in WoW. Rift sometimes seems like the retirement home of all the disaffected WoW players who complained WoW was too easy. Levelling in Rift isn’t. Yes, you can pick your way around carefully and not get into too much trouble, but much of it seems geared towards group play – even during questing. You can’t just plough in and take on multiple mobs and expect to emerge unscathed. With questing gear alone it takes a while to kill things and while mobs aren’t as sensitive as they were in earlier days of Rift, they still get annoyed with you at a fair distance. You often have to search for quest objectives that might be in difficult to reach places; constant lengthy fights with irrelevant mobs gets tiresome after a while. Even without flying (and regular readers of this blog will know my feelings on that!), levelling in WoD was – and is – fluid and satisfying. You don’t get stuck in bottlenecks of difficulty where you can’t progress alone. In a game of this type, I think that’s the way levelling should be, an interesting, colourful journey – save the hard stuff for level cap.

So, going back to Rift has made me appreciate WoW more. I realised how much of WoD I like. One thing I’m utterly satisfied with is the garrisons and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get something similar in the next xpac. But I can’t help thinking that due to the fact a lot of players seem to dislike garrisons, Blizzard might possibly jettison them, rather than tweak them carefully to iron out their weaknesses. Such is Blizzard’s usual response – go to extremes. For me, garrisons have enabled my army of alts to have purpose again. The follower missions are great for getting them gear, so it’s possible to raid with them, with premade groups, not just LFR. My warlock and mage are both around the 660 ilevel mark, with others not far behind. I like the fact that if I haven’t got time to go out farming for mats, (without flying, a vile chore), I can just send the alts round their mines and herb gardens for a while, gathering enough to support those who need mats for their professions. The only farming I tend to put off, even when it’s needed, is trapping beasts for my barns – one each on Horde and Alliance. That’s a chore, because we have to taxi to Nagrand for it, and with some classes those elite wolves must be pretty annoying, as they pack a punch. I have Hunters for both barns, which makes the job easy enough, but even so, lengthy. It’s fine for passing the time when I’m in a queue for group content, but that’s about it.

Prior to WoD, I’ve always had my two mains, a Druid healer and a Hunter, who’ve stepped in to work as our raid team required them. I’ve had a couple of tanks, who are not needed at the moment, so would, but for WoD, be languishing doing nothing. My next two characters – semi main – were the warlock and the mage, but often they didn’t get much to do, if anything. Now, with the boost of follower missions, it’s possible to have multiple characters capable of end game. I can pick and choose which ones I’ll do LFR with each week – there’s no rush after all . These occasional visits help augment their gear. If there’s ever a situation where we need one of these classes present in our raid team, I have a fairly decent character waiting in the wings, who can be brought up to scratch without too much effort. With my mains, at present I’m healing in our guild raid team exclusively, but have kept my Hunter pretty much on par, should I need to swap to him at any point. I adore this flexibility, which we’ve never had to this extent before. Other guild members have also got a couple or more characters at a decent level, which helps with team formation when members fluctuate. Blizzard have got this aspect just right. Small and medium sized guilds need this flexibility, and the ability to gear up a character to an acceptable level pretty quickly in a personnel emergency is great.

Going back to garrisons, another thing I love about them is the followers themselves. If you bother to ask one to help when you’re defending a garrison invasion, some of them have cool animations and spell effects, as well as great-looking armour and weapons. A friend of mine had the gnome warlock Ranni Flagdabble along the other night when I went to help him with a garrison invasion, and this little gnome spontaneously erupted into a huge demon form to fight. I also particularly like the priest Rorin Rivershade, and her gorgeous armour has tempted me to brave pvp so I can farm honor points for a similar set for my own priest. (There are a lot of older pvp armour sets on sale for honor at the pvp vendors on Serpent Spine wall in Pandaria, many of which are stunning.)

In a way, Rift has player housing with the dimensions, but those buildings you create, and the landscapes you can transform, are empty. There are no NPCs, so they’re like ghost towns, as if everyone has just left. Rift players who are into dimensions plead for some life in the form of critters and humanoid NPCs, but Trion don’t seem keen to devote time and resources to granting that wish. In WoW, we have life in abundance in our garrisons. When all your followers are at home, the garrisons are busy and full of residents. Nor are they just static – they appear to be getting on with their lives, talking to one another, wandering about, going for a drink in the inn… Rift dimension addicts would kill for that!

I’ll really miss my followers when we leave Draenor. They’ve become as familiar as my actual characters and I enjoy seeing them mooching about the garrison. I came across two having a row the other day, and one of them burst into tears as I passed by. I wondered what they were arguing about! I like the way Blizzard has made an effort to give these 100s of NPCs their own little character traits. I don’t want to leave mine behind, and would happily take all of them with me into whatever adventures we have next. I wouldn’t mind levelling them up again, in the same way my characters will have to level, perhaps swapping in some new team members now and again, if someone interesting pops up in the inn. But I’m more or less resigned to the fact they’ll remain in Draenor. I can see myself going back to visit them, once they no longer have to work by going out on missions and are always around the garrison.

Another thing I think Blizzard has done really well is the changes to the subsidiary professions. While the crafting professions have become a bit tiresome, Cooking, First Aid and Fishing are now easy to level. It’s possible to get all your alts to top Fishing without too much effort. That has never happened before, mainly because Fishing was such a grind and so time-consuming. Now, it’s a great thing to do (along with barn stocking) when you’re queued for a dungeon or LFR. Passes the time and is very productive (even more so when you have Nat Pagle ensconced in the Fishing Shack). The more proficient fishermen and women can provide the fish for the daily quest for alts, which awards a whopping 15 points, so you can steadily advance everyone’s Fishing level without having to pay too much attention to it. You need *something* to do while you’re queuing, after all. Cooking and First Aid are also mainly levelled by fish, so Fishing helps max them quickly too. I’m still surprised that it’s most likely all of my alts will have top Fishing by the end of the xpac. That’s unheard of! I still think Archaeology needs some work (shudder), and in the next xpac I hope Blizzard makes changes again to the crafting professions, but they shouldn’t touch the subsidiary profs now – they’re perfect as they are.

One thing that most players seem to agree on is that the levelling aspect of WoD is really good. It’s polished – no other word for it – and I really can’t see it can be improved upon. There are shaky areas in the game, which I’ve talked about on this blog, as have many others on their own blogs and on forums, but really when you look at the competition, WoW still deserves its crown. I’m fond of Telara and my characters in Rift, but if you think crafting profs are now grindy in WoW, go there for a bit. It costs a fortune to level them and they’re really fiddly. All of them. There’s no fast track method to gear up alts, even if crafting materials are easily acquired through minion missions. But those minions are just pictures on a mission Window, they’re not there with you inworld.

I’m not sure Blizzard will ever be able to perfect such aspects of the game as raiding, dailies, class changes, and pvp, since players have so many different requirements, and what pleases one lot of players greatly disgruntles many others. But the aspects that are constant Blizzard generally does well. Crafting, hmm, still needs attention – finding that balance between commitment and result without making it too fast or too slow. As for the story, whether you like the way it’s done or not, there *is* a story, a history, and people within it. It’s not just tacked on as an afterthought.

People tend to look back on earlier days of WoW as some kind of Golden Age, but the improvements to the game and quality of life changes have lifted it miles above its formative years. We just tend to forget all the bad stuff and concentrate fondly on what is perceived as good. I think it’s time we reflected on just what’s so good about WoW *now*. I can remember thinking I’d never get to see places like Black Temple and Serpentshrine Cavern, but now every raid is available to all – at different levels of difficulty. I can remember thinking I’d never be able to afford the faster ground mount in Vanilla. It took me months to grind the gold for the slowest mount. Now, gold comes easily and there is an abundance of mounts – account wide. I won’t go further with the comparisons because it’s old news, but it’s also good to remind ourselves of the changes. WoW is never going to be the perfect game we’d all like, because there are millions of visions of that perfect game. But despite its shortcomings, there’s no doubt: it’s a damn *good* game.

Coda: as Blizzard are renowned for their spectacular pendulum swings, are we looking forward to an xpac that’s flying only? 😉

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.