guild wars

Discovering Tyria

the sun behind akinjaIt’s been a while since a GW2 related post, right? No wait, you got some fancy pictures just two days ago. This game really has me in its grips it seems. And why shouldn’t it? So far, my journey through the lands of Tyria has been really enjoyable.

One of the things GW2 just gets right is invoking a feeling of discovery. The zones feel grand and are full of hidden nooks and crannies. Also, by ditching the classic quest log and replacing it with these “renown hearts” on your map, you’re actually encouraged to roam around the map filling up those golden hearts. And you know what happens during those trips? Discoveries! No matter if you discover a hidden jumping puzzle or a dynamic event, you’re not simply walking from quest hub to quest hub. No, you’re actually experiencing a heroic journey full of unexpected twists.

Talking about those dynamic events…I just can’t get enough of them. True, many of them are rather simple and feel like your traditional quests, but some of them are just presented so damn well. Today, I came to a place where there should be a bridge. Thinking I had found the fastest way to the next renown heart, I had to discover that the bridge had been destroyed, and a group of traders couldn’t cross a gaping gulch to deliver their goods. Fortunately, some of the traders decided they would venture into the forest to gather wood, and I decided to follow them. As we arrived in the forest, it turned out dredge (communist mole creatures using sonic weapons and drills) were chopping down all the trees, and so I had to help the merchants to drive off the blind baddies while making sure we would also gather enough wood. Of course, we succeeded, and after a short construction sequence, the traders and I could cross the new bridge, parting ways once we made it to the next crossroad.

Did I expect this to happen? Definitely not! I just wanted to go to the next marked spot on my map, but the random and “breathing” nature of GW2 put this little story in my way, rewarding me with some extra gold and a chunk of XP. This is what makes every session of GW2 so damn enjoyable: knowing that, no matter if you want to or not, you’ll be surprised by a cool discovery.

Sure, the game has its downsides, but so far, I just love to play it for about two hours a day, exploring Tyria with babysteps. How long it will last? I’m not sure, but as long as I can discover something, I think GW2 will not get rid of me…

No MMO home for the homesick?

I feel like a digital nomad. Travelling from game to game, I try to find that one chosen title that can harbor me for more than a dozen hours. There are so many fascinating places to go, but nowhere have I put up my tent for longer than just a little while. I see the sights, mingle with the locals and eventually even join one of their clubs, but before long, I’m packing my belongings, step on my imaginary motorcycle and ride down the digital highway. Where to? I don’t know, probably just the exit to the next promising game.

I mean, it’s not like I never had this digital home, a virtual world where I could put on a pixelated skin that felt like my own. Those six years I’ve spent in World of Warcraft will always be a part of my gaming resumé. No matter how much the game has changed, I will remember the days I called Azeroth my home away from home. I will never forget the adventures I experienced in the role of my Troll Shaman Akinya, and I will never stop feeling nostalgic about my first raid or epic loot. Sure, even during my peak time with WoW I had my moments of “struggle”. I was like a teenager who got fed up of his hometown, so occasionally, I packed my stuff and visited another place: Paragon City, New Eden, Tyria…you name ’em. But sooner or later, I got homesick and returned to Orgrimmar.

Today, this homesickness has long been replaced by an unrivaled wanderlust. I’m like a lonely gypsy, blazing my trail through the woods that connect a myriad of mystical worlds. One week, I’ll be killing zombies in The Secret World, while the next week, I’ll be back in RIFT defending Telara against the dimensional forces. The only constant in all of this is the fact that, sooner or later, I’ll leave again, driven by this urge to explore, while trying to find a new home.

Will I ever find it? I don’t know, but if I stop looking, I will never answer that question. So I wander, homesick for a place to call home. If you see me stopping by in your game, just give me some helpful advice and a few buffs. I’ll be gone in a few days anyway…

Story matters

As I ventured forth into the continent of Pandaria, curious to see what this new land had to hold for my warrior, I noticed that Blizzard decided to change the way quest achievements were tracked. Instead of rewarding you with some e-peen points after finishing a certain number of quests in a zone, you work off a list of quest “storylines”, and are notified as soon as you finish one. Once you have rounded up every storyline in the zone, you get a nice achievement, showing everyone that you helped all those in need in a part of Pandaria. It’s a nice change from the old way, but next to giving you an easier way to tracking your quest process, it also shows how even the behemoth company of Blizzard has laid their focus on storytelling in their flagship title.

Of course, this way of tracking quest achievements is just a minor part of their new focus on the story of Pandaria. The use of many cutscenes and spoken dialogue helps to immerse the player into the setting, making him a part of the story. I’m a big fan of this focus on the plot that many contemporary MMORPG’s show. Considering the roots of role-playing games, story is a big part of the role-playing experience, but for years, it was taking the backseat in most online titles.

A cynic might claim that this is nothing but a simple reaction to the demands of the market. While struggling with many other issues, the storylines of Star Wars: The Old Republic are considered the best in any MMORPG, and Guild Wars 2 also puts the personal story of your character into the center of the game. My favourite The Secret World almost drowns the player in symbolic and enigmatic storytelling, and looking at the positive reactions all these games get for their attempts at being more than just a grindfest, it seems like the people simply demand a good story.

I mean, who can blame them? Years of simply hacking away at monsters with but a notion of lore and motivation have dulled us, and we want to know why our digital alter egos venture forth to be heroes. We want to the stories we know from offline games online, to share them with our friends. We want to form our own band of daring knights and sorcerers, and fight against evil out of a strong, personal motivation. In the end, we want to know why we had to kill those ten rats, and how that helped achieving our character’s goals. This focus on story and the narrative aspects gives us the means to do just that, and I hope that it will be a part of MMORPG’s that will receive lots of love in the future.