Tuesday, November 3, 2015

In At The Deep End : GW2

Underwater exploration has always been something of a Marmite topic for MMORPGs although it's probably fair to say there are a lot more players feeling the Hate than the Love. My own first introduction to the concept came in EverQuest, where at the time I began playing the one underwater dungeon in the game, Kedge Keep, was considered by some to be the most difficult in the game.

When I finally made it to Phinagel Atropos's stronghold, well past the peak of his reign of terror, it turned out to be a confusing, disorienting, nerve-wracking yet not entirely unpleasant experience. Perhaps it's because of that baseline that I've found almost all underwater zones since then to be relatively enjoyable.

I certainly wouldn't claim underwater as my favorite environment but it's a lot better than some. For one thing it offers the same full and free movement in three dimensions as flight without any risk of death from falling damage. Okay, you can drown, but that at least takes a while and you can usually do something about it before you take your last gasp. And unlike lava water doesn't burn.

Of all the MMOs I've played a lot I think EQ2 probably has the worst underwater environments. Not only are they largely bland and undetailed but someone thought it would be a great idea use thick "fog" to limit visibility to a few yards. I never go underwater in EQ2 unless I absolutely have to.

Rift had some nice underwater environments but the best by far that I've seen are in GW2, where the visuals below the waterline match anything above. Everything there conspires to make you feel as at home as you can be when you're so far out of your element. There's no restriction of vision, your "waterbreather" snaps to your face as soon as you submerge so you never need worry about drowning and best of all movement feels as easy and natural as it does on land. Combat isn't exactly a joy but it's perfectly functional, with some classes shining and others just getting by.

In the long run-up to the release of Heart of Thorns underwater content barely got a mention. Back in May Dragon Season took a look at the prospects. It had to be a speculative assessment because, as they pointed out, "ArenaNet hasn’t told us anything about underwater combat in Heart of Thorns."

Well, HoT is with us now and as far as I know ANet never did say anything about their plans for underwater content, other than briefly confirming there would be none in the new WvW Desert Borderlands. I wasn't expecting to need my waterbreather at all.

Fortunately its always with me whether i think I'm going to need it or not. Yesterday, while I was exploring the third new map, Tangled Depths, I found a sinkhole somewhere to the south east of the Decayed Hive. Diving deep I discovered a vast network of flooded tunnels that appear to extend beneath the entire zone.

It was busy everywhere all day in every HoT map I visited but I had these tunnels largely to myself. With a bunch of xp boosters running, the tuna, gulpers, armored fish and thundershrimp that had been minding their own business unbothered for a good while gave excellent bonuses.

It's hardly surprising they hadn't be killed in the previous few hours. There's not a lot down there to draw a crowd. There was a bit of business with some Exalted magic without which instant death ensued. Didn't really get what that was all about but it was interesting at least.

The best part wasn't in the water at all. One apparent dead end emerged into a towering flue that turned into a really magnificent glider ride requiring a series of tight turns into updrafts to gain the top of a towering flue. Other than that I didn't find much. Oh, there was a Hero Challenge down there somewhere. That was a bonus.

Even if they haven't been fully developed to their potential it's nice that the tunnels are there as evidence that underwater gameplay hasn't entirely been forgotten or abandoned. Who knows, maybe when Bubbles the Elder Sea Dragon gets his turn at bat we'll get a whole expansion under the waves.

No, that would be commercial suicide. No developer would ever think of doing something so crazy.


  1. Heh, I got a friend that *loves* underwater environments. When she found out about them in GW2, she tried to level only by underwater combat - only to be disappointed that there wasn't enough content to pull that off.

    I, however, was so scared when I first went under water in the game! I like being immersed in the games I play, but I have underwater fear IRL. It took me a while before I got over that in GW2 (now if only it was that easy IRL!).

    Either way, I'm watching a bit from the sideline now with Heart of Thorns out (I didn't buy it) and being absorbed a bit with SWTOR's newest expansion, which is *very* good. I'm positive I'll return to GW2 in some time, though; there's still much for me to do.

    1. The triggering of real-life fears and anxieties by in-game environments is a bit under-reported I think. I don't have a fear of heights myself but it occurred to me last week as I was hopping from girder to girder in the skeleton of an airship that crashed into the jungle canopy in Heart of Thorns that it would be an extremely intimidating expansion for an acrophobic. I've heard plenty of people complain that the presence of giant spiders makes certain areas (or games) unplayable for them.


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