Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I'm Looking At The Big Sky : Guild Wars

After all the fuss and bother it took to get Guild Wars up and running again, I thought I ought to buckle down and play for a while.

I'd already logged my Dervish in for a few minutes to take screenshots for yesterday's post, which briefly entailed a trip into an "explorable area" as instances are called there, and it only took a few seconds of combat for me to remember how much I disliked the class. The question was whether to make a brand new character or go with someone I already had sitting around.

I recalled that there was a fairly long slog through an extended tutorial to get to Kamadan, the starting city for Nightfall, which put me off the idea of starting fresh. Plus, the whole point of doing this is supposed to be to run quickly through the storyline to get up to speed before Path of Fire, which, you'd imagine, would be easier to do on a max-level character.

The account I have linked to my GW2 account is a new one, though, not my original Prophecies account, so I didn't really have a lot of choice. Or any. There's the Dervish (level 4), a Necromancer (level 1) and a Ranger/Elementalist and that's it.

The R/E, fortunately, is level 20 and ranger and ele are two of the three classes I vaguely remember how to play (the third being Monk). She was last seen taking an extended vacation in Lion's Arch so I woke her up she and wandered around LA aimlessly for a while trying to work out how to get from Tyria to Elona.

That turned out to be mindlessly simple. Click on the Ship icon on the map and take the Travel option. I'd forgotten that GW1, like GW2, uses instant map travel. As Telwyn says, when you return to an old MMO, sometimes getting started isn't so easy. It all comes back as you play, I find, but it can take a while.

For me the first problem is often my bags. They are always full. Chances are, one of the reasons I stopped playing the last time was that I ran out of storage space. What's more, if there'd been an easy way to fix it I would already have taken it.

Starting an expansion with bags already crammed just isn't an option but luckily there's one big advantage to a short visit to an MMO where you know you won't be staying: you're free to be ruthless. I sold everything the merchants would take, which wasn't a lot because GW1 merchants are pickier than most. I salvaged some of the rest and sold the salvage and what was left after that  I destroyed.

Which still left me with a bank full of minis, elixirs and other stuff I didn't want to lose. So I fell back into the age old trap; I had a lot of free character slots so I made a bank mule.

The salient fact I'd forgotten when making this stellar decision is that the starting village has no bank. Can there be any creature more forlorn than a bank mule with no bank to lean on? At least I found the option to skip the tutorial - a weaselly option, which still requires you to do some of the tutorial anyway, but I got that done in a few minutes. A couple of swaps back and forth between characters and I had my R/E with plenty of bag space, ready to go.

Only... go where? No-one wanted to give her any quests. Nothing seemed to be showing on the map. I leafed through my quest journal but I didn't see anything in there. So I did what I always do - set off into the countryside to see what trouble I could stir up.

Guild Wars is an odd duck as MMOs go. There has always been a debate over whether it's really an MMO at all.

It has a lot of non-combat hub areas - cities, villages, camps, halls - where players can mingle in true MMO style but everything else happens in "Explorable Areas" - instances by any other name. You can form a group in a hub and enter an EA together or you can go in solo (which in Guild Wars means surrounded by NPC henchmen, heroes, pets and other hangers-on; see someone playing "solo" in GW1 and you could easily think you were watching a raid).

Explorable Areas differ from instances in other MMOs in that they form a genuine open world - of a kind. They are geographically contiguous, by and large, and if you can fight your way through them you can eventually explore your way across the entire map.

I did that for a while, getting as far as Jokanur Diggings before I decided I was wasting my time. Okay, not really, because I was having fun. Explorer archetype - represent! It just wasn't getting me anywhere with the whole "follow the storyline" project, since no NPC anywhere I went wanted to give me anything more than a paragraph of flavor text.

At this point I felt I needed outside help so I went to the wiki. Just as well I did. Even with the full walkthrough for Nightfall to refer to at every stage I got stuck several times. NPCs didn't seem to be where the quest text suggested. The green asterisk that marks the place you need to go next on the in-game map sometimes seemed to lead to a dead end. When I did get to where I needed to be I couldn't always work out what I was supposed to be doing there.

All in all it was one of the more confused, less coherent starts to a campaign that I've seen. Not unenjoyable, though. Being level 20 and fighting level 6 mobs, with Ogden, Jora and MOX, Heroes all, alongside, certainly made things zip along. I'm not sure I'd have had as much fun if I'd been level six myself, as presumably it was intended I should have been.

In a couple of hours or so I got as far as the final quest in the first region, Istan. By then the mobs were in the high teens and it wasn't a cake-walk any more. A few retro-familiar names cropped up - Kormir, Varesh, Abaddon. No sign of Palawa Joko yet. I think he'll show up in the next region, Vabbi.

For a twelve-year old game, Guild Wars looks remarkably good. The graphics, which were generally well-received back in 2005, have aged well.

Elonia, the game's Africa analog, is impressive. The Elonian landscapes are attractively sparse, geologically and environmentally varied and occasionally stunning. The skies are particularly fine. I'm quite pleased we're headed that way in GW2.

I took a lot of screenshots although the perennial GW1 photographer's problem persisted, namely all those myriad companions, restlessly jogging from hither to yon, spoiling every composition. I figured out some workarounds for that and managed a few uncluttered vistas. Getting the team to pose for a group shot, though... you might as well ask a dozen monkeys to form an orderly line.

I was struck by how much, visually, GW2 has taken directly from the older game. The wooden scaffolding along the Cliffs of Dohjok, for example, is almost exactly like the scaffolding used in the reconstruction of Lion's Arch after the Scarlet War.

This does make me feel the attempt to run through Nightfall before Path of Fire arrives is worthwhile. Given that the current development team is actively promoting the idea that there will be nostalgia triggers baked in, might as well give them something to trigger.

Now I just need to rally the troops and it's onwards to Vabbi we go!


  1. And another small tip. If you look at your compass you can see a few flag icons beneath it. You can order your heroes/henchman with them. One is for all of them. And the first three can be ordered around individually. This is also quite helpful for ordering them a bit away while drawing aggro (always carry a longbow for pulling, even if your class normally doesn't use it).

    Have fun with uncluttered screenshots.

    1. They cover that in the part of the tutorial I wasn't able to skip. At the moment my "strat" is to have all the Heroes I'm allowed, use Tab to cycle through enemies and have them pile on while i stand as far away from the action as possible, plinking away with the longbow and dropping the occasional meteor shower. I know from experience in Eye of The North that this won't keep working but it's working fine for now!

  2. I don't know if you have tried Factions yet, and it is less relevant to current GW2 direction, but I always found Cantha to be the most visually stunning of the 3 main GW1 lands. Mind you, their are the slums there too, but those are appealing in their own way.

    1. Skyscraper slums, like a fantasy megapolis version of Hong Kong. I loved the Jade Sea.

      I do remember flipping through my Nightfall art book from the CE and being very impressed at how they drew inspiration and influences from an African setting. At the time, such cosmopolitan/global thinking was super rare, everything was western fantasy forests and pastoral farmland.

      My one regret is that I never picked up Prophecies CE. It's so tempting to go back and play more GW1 but there ain't enough time in my life for everything.

    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kowloon_Walled_City

      It very much exists in real life.

    3. Factions seems to get a good review everywhere I look. When GW2 gets round to going to Cantha maybe I'll play through it then.


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