Nevertheless I've always found the background chatter of a million voices to be an integral part of the MMORPG experience. I'd no more go without it than I'd replace the in-game music with choices of my own or mute the obsessive chorus of NPC voiceovers. I've heard people do that. Go figure!
The nature of what passes for conversation varies a good deal from game to game. WoW, the MMO that has probably done most to bring the concept of freeform, unmediated player-to-player interaction into disrepute - it spawned the semi-generic "Barrens Chat" after all - can sometimes be unbearable. Alright, often. General chat in EverQuest these days tends towards the smug and cynical while EQ2, particularly in a couple of the game-wide custom channels I frequent, sometimes gets too twee even for me (and speaking as a ratonga with an apparent mental age of around five or six that takes some doing, let me tell you).
|Guild Hall? Guild Island, more like.|
Generally, though, most MMOs chug along pleasantly with a mix of question-and-answer sessions relating to the game itself, attempts at humor (some more successful than others) and the occasional very welcome flurry of surrealism or roleplay. GW2 has always been particularly chatty in a mostly good-natured way and the arrival of Heart of Thorns has highlighted that tendency, with many helpful hints and observations scrolling through the little box in the lower left corner of the screen throughout most of the many hours I've played.
One thing others do have going on that I generally don't, however, is Guild Chat. The last time I was in a guild with enough people to get a conversation going was back in EQ2, getting on for four years ago, before GW2 launched. Even then there were fewer than a dozen of us and rarely more than four or five on at the same time. I'd have to go back closer to a decade before I hit the point where Guild chat was as busy as any open channel.
Heart of Thorns changed all that. GW2 has always allowed a player to be in multiple guilds at the same time. Five guilds to be precise. Until the launch of the expansion, however, to speak and listen in guild chat you had to "represent" that guild and you could only rep one at a time. For three years the virtual currency used to power guilds, "Influence", was tied to Representing so who you repped was often an issue.
|Guild I.D.? Erm, I think I left it in my other robe...|
Outside of a couple of stints raising Influence for a personal bank guild or two I have always repped the small guild made up only of my characters, Mrs Bhagpuss's and those of two friends, one whom only plays occasional weekends and the other, who gave up on GW2 after about three months. Not surprisingly, guild chat hasn't been much of a thing for the lifetime of GW2.
Well, it is now. With the launch of HoT Influence was retired and Representation was streamlined and simplified. Each guild you belong to now has a discrete, dedicated chat channel and you can hear and speak in all of them no matter which guild you are currently repping.
That still wouldn't bring the noise if the only guilds I was in were my own tiny one and a couple of single-account bank guilds, but just before HoT dropped, in anticipation of both the arrival of Guild Halls and the new Squad Commander system, I decided it might be time to ally with a larger organization. As it happened one of the largest WvW guilds on Yak's Bend was recruiting and as Mrs Bhagpuss was already a member, having been headhunted long ago for her tactical acumen, they seemed like a good choice. Also they let me in just for asking, which are the kind of entry requirements I like!
|The opening cinematic is all I've seen of Lost Precipice so far.|
As a result I've not only been able to follow the process of Guild Hall acquisition and upgrade but my chatbox is busy non-stop and not just with the usual guild gossip, either. Given that the guild has some of the more skilled and experienced Commanders and sPvP players around I've learned quite a lot.
The changes to the Guild experience have been instructive all round. Far from feeling disenfranchised by ANet's decision to set the practical lower limit for Guild Hall acquisition somewhere around five members I feel positively liberated by not having to bother with the onerous process for our small, personal guild.
There's an argument to be had that Guild Halls could have come in a wider variety of sizes but, given that they are currently only available in the giant mega-sized full map version, not having to grind the insane requirements for upgrades seems like a lucky escape. Being able to visit and explore the guild's home in Gilded Hollow as a lowly member of a large organization, chipping in towards its renovation and reconstruction in a manner that fits my available time and resources, seems like a good deal, not as some have suggested a slap in the face.
|A jumping puzzle our Guild Leader made for Halloween. Only two jumps but a lot harder than it looks.|
Meanwhile, our little guild and all our bank guilds have access to all the facilities we need in the sumptuous and entirely private setting of the guild-specific Guild Initiative Headquarters instance in Lion's Arch. We have everything we need there and it's larger than some full-size Guild Halls in other MMOs. We can't decorate it but you can't have everything.
As it turns out I would have been able to visit the Hall even if I hadn't taken steps to prepare. Long ago someone sent me a guild invite at some event or other and I accepted it. It was from a guild based on Sanctum of Rall that exists to run large-scale, cross-server events, not in a hyper-organized, elitist fashion but in a more down-home, turn up and pitch in kind of style.
I did one event with them and forgot all about it but come HoT and its five live guild feeds and suddenly there they all were, chatting away down in the bottom corner. They also have a Guild Hall and, sod's law, they picked Gilded Hollow too, so I still haven't seen the other map, Lost Precipice. Also, since both the large guilds of which I'm now a humble member play primarily North American hours, they both began their expeditions to reclaim the maps from the Mordrem just as I was about to go to bed, so I haven't done the fights either. I did stay up long enough to hear one of them wipe on the first attempt though. Heh!
So there we have it. Another of the heavily-hyped features of Heart of Thorns about which my pre-launch feelings were, at best, ambivalent, turns out to be rather a good addition to the game from my perspective after all. Confusing, isn't it? It's almost as though someone at Anet knows what they're doing.
Now that really is a disturbing thought...