Monday, August 31, 2020

Let's Submerge: GW2

I almost didn't bother doing "Finding Sabaha", Guild Wars 2's recently-introduced Skimmer Mastery Achievement. It's a mount quest and I've made no secret of how I feel about mounts in GW2. I wish they'd never been invented. What's more, it doesn't even get you a new mount, like the Roller Beetle or the Warclaw or the Skyscale, just a new ability for one of the old ones.

The original five mounts were always horribly unbalanced. Only one, the saurian Raptor, had any general utility. It was apparently intended as the basic go-faster model, with a useful horizontal leap to cross chasms, many of which had been helpfully provided by the art department throughout the Path of Fire expansion for that very purpose.

The Raptor's reign as mount of choice was short-lived, usually about as long as it took someone to finish the lengthy Griffon quest. The catbird was one of the slower mounts but it made up for lack of speed with its ability to hedge-hop like a wounded chicken, an inelegant lurch which still made it more practical for crossing terrain with an active z-axis than any of the others.

Only when faced with a sheer cliff face or a jumping puzzle the devs forgot to ring-fence would anyone employ the squirrel-rabbit known as the Springer. Operating as a jet-propelled pogo stick, the Springer was meant to be dragged out of the bag only when a swift vertical ascent was required and as swiftly replaced. Spring-heeled boots would have been a far prefereable option.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a Portuguese Man o' War.
As for the Jackal, it seems to have no purpose whatsoever, other than to complete certain small pieces of content written especially to demonstrate its capabilities. You rarely see anyone use it, although if people have a flashy-enough skin they might occasionally get it out and sit on it somewhere public, in the hope passers-by might be impressed. And they may well be - until they realize the creature under the glamor is just a stupid jackal.

That leaves the Skimmer. As the only mount that can operate on water, it does have some utility. It saves you having to swim, at least. Unfortunately, swimming in GW2 is exceptionally easy, so since the Skimmer corners like a drunk hippopotamus and has a top speed that makes you feel you're heading into a force ten gale, that's not as much of an attraction as it could have been.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the Skimmer is that despite clearly being an amphibian it appears to be alergic to water. The clue is in the name. It skitters across the surface like a skipped stone. You can use it to get to where you think the underwater content might be but if you want participate you have to dismount and dive.

"Less scary largos" is like "less poisonous cyanide", isn't it?
Well not any more. As a little treat for the eighth anniversary, ANet added a quest (Yes, a quest. Do we really have to keep up the pretence?). It opens a new mount mastery, one which allows your skimmer to break surface tension and dive.

That did sound like it could conceivably be useful but I was wary of what the so-called "achievement" might entail. I read the ludicrous farrago of pre-requisites for the Skyscale again the other day and that was a hard "nope".  If it was going to be something like that then forget it.

Then again, I actually enjoyed both the Griffin and Roller Beetle quests. If it was something along those lines it might even be an entertaining way to pass a session or two.

The first problem was where to start. I'd have expected some kind of in-game prompt but I hadn't seen one, so I googled it. The wiki wasn't telling me anything but I found what looked to be a decent alternative to the much-missed Dulfy.

It's a website called Guildjen , run by "Jen... a female gamer from Argentina". It looks very new - the oldest posts come from the beginning of June - but it already has a lot of solid, useful content and most importantly it's bang up to date. Let's hope Jen sticks around. We could certainly use another Dulfy.

Trust me. It's a thigh-slapper.

Using Jen's walkthrough probably cut the time it took me to complete the quest in half. Maybe more. I finished it in under an hour. It isn't anything like the crazy collections ANet like to create for big ticket items like Legendaries or the aforementioned Skyscale, thankfully, but it does involve a lot of map-hopping and plenty of visits to obscure NPCs who aren't marked on the map.

Jen's guide not only has all all the steps listed, with precise and accurate details of exactly where you need to go and what you need to do when you get there, it also has all the waypoints, named and with their short codes ready to cut and past into the chat line. You don't even need to open your map.

Should you want to do the quest without spoilers, here's a short summary in bullet-points:
  • Be on a character who's completed the Path of Fire storyline.
  • Go to any major city.
  • Read the note that appears in your mail.
  • Follow the clues and go from map to map talking to various NPCs.
  • Complete a couple of map events.
  • Kill a couple of mobs.
  • Get silver in a timed Adventure.
  • And that's it.
Short, easy, fun. The best part was the writing, which is very decent. I genuinely laughed out loud at one point. Also I got to talk to a Largos who didn't try to kill me, which was a first.

At the end of all that, you still don't have a skimmer that can submerge, of course. You have a new Mastery track that adds that ability. It costs eight PoF mastery points so if you have those you're all set. I had two so I have some more work to do.

I'd all but forgotten Masteries were a thing.

Not sure if I can be bothered. Unless the new mastery also doubles or preferably trebles the Skimmer's speed, I can't see the point. If the time trial's any indication, the thing's as excruciatingly slow beneath the surface as above. I'd rather swim.

My only slight concern is that ArenaNet could be softening us all up for some major underwater content to come. They did that whole underwater combat revamp a while back and now this. And lest we forget in all the Cantha hype, one of the remaining Elder Dragons is Bubbles, the as-yet officially nameless Sea Dragon. 

Maybe End of Dragons is going to take place underwater. Some of it, at least. In which case, maybe we'll need submersible skimmers. Suppose I better go get some more PoF masteries, then.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Across 110th : EverQuest

Time for a very quick update on how my unexpected return to EverQuest is going. Amazingly well!

A bit more detail? Well, okay.

On Saturday morning my magician dinged 110. That, unbelievably, puts her at the start of the current expansion, Torment of Velious, at least in level range. Of course, she's not insane enough to try and go hunt there. Not yet. Maybe at 115.

Things have been moving fast. Two months ago she was getting to grips with the decade-old House of Thule. A month later she'd moved on just one expansion to 2011's Veil of Alaris. Two weeks ago it was 2013's Call of the Forsaken. And last night?

Last night she went to buy some spells in the Outpost in the uplevelled version of The Overthere that came with 2017's Ring of Scale. She'd been there before, to get her level 106 air pet, but she'd been very careful not to step outside the safety of the massive stone walls surrounding the friendly vendor area.

This time she poked her nose, very cautiously, outside. Maybe, just maybe, she might try hunting one, small creature. Something not too scary. Staying very close to the walls and the guards (not that they'd be likely to help). Ready at all times to cast Gate and book.

I knew it was taking a big risk but she was, I felt, about as prepared as she could be, short of waiting another level. At 111 she'll be able to buy, scribe and cast the spell that summons the current highest-available air elemental pet. She won't have the appropriate focus item to make it the strongest version it could be but it's the best she's going to get until the  level cap goes up again and that probably won't be for at least another  year, maybe two.

The sensible thing would be to wait for that but - dammit - I believed in her! I thought she was ready!

She ought to be, the money I've spent on her. Around the start of the month I made the hard decision to stop taking the easy way out when it came to making money. Instead of ending every hunting session by using the incredibly handy and accessible Barter system to sell whatever tradeskill mats had dropped, I set up my Bazaar trader on the other account.

Setting up and maintaining a trader in EverQuest is quite fiddly and very time-consuming. I'm not going to go into the hows and whys of it. It would take me all day. I learned the Trade trade back in the day, when Luclin was newish and every server had the maximum five hundred traders up at all times, with more waiting for someone to leave.

Most days now there are around a hundred and eighty traders on my server. Not the glory days but still a bustling marketplace. I spent a while checking the prices there against what I was getting from the buyers on barter and to no-one's surprise, I'm sure, it was obvious there was a lot more profit in selling to punters than to the trade.

That's not to say barter buyers rip players off. A few try it but most offer very fair prices for the convenience of being able to sell direct from the hunting grounds and not have to bother with all the rigmarole of trading. Nevertheless, if you can be bothered to make the effort, direct sale is where the money's at.

Over three weeks or so I made a couple of hundred thousand platinum and I plowed it all back into gear upgrades for the Mage. If I'd been planning on keeping her account subbed I could have bought better gear for less, which seems ironic, but I planned ahead  and stuck to the stuff anyone can wear.

She has Conflagrant items in sixteen slots now. That's the player-crafted gear you can equip from level 106. The  focus effects don't decay until the current cap of 115 so they're about the best Bazaar-bought kit a Silver account is going to get. I still have a couple more pieces to buy and that will be it for Conflagrant.

When she dinged I picked up several more items that required her to be 110. When I collect those last couple of player-made pieces, she'll be fully dressed in level-appropriate gear that should last her for the foreseeable future. Except for the shield slot. I just can't seem to find anything for that.

It all cost me a lot of money but I had to keep some back for spells. Apart from one or two key buffs and summons I hadn't bought her any new ones for about five levels. Time was when I would try to buy all the spells every level even if I knew she was never going to use them but at higher levels Magicians get a lot of spells and the price keeps going up and up. I'd be broke, fast, if I bought them all.

Instead I spent a good while on Allakhazam, reading them up before I took the Guild Hall portal to The Overthere to buy them. And even then it was confusing as hell. Every spell has a description plus a bunch of stats that supposedly tell you exactly how it works and yet more often than I'd like I still don't really understand what some of them do. Often the only way to be absolutely sure is to buy the blasted thing and fire it at something.

Even when I did understand what the spell itself did, I still had to correlate that with what line and/or school of spells it belonged to to see whether it would be enhanced by any of the Mage's various focus effects and AAs. It's a complicated process. But then, that's why it's fun. True, at times it makes my head hurt and I have to stop and take a break, but this degree of intellectual involvement is undoubtedly a key factor in the mysterious compulsion that keeps me coming back to this game over and over again.

It has occured to me that I could circumvent all of this, or at least all of the scrimping and saving and "can I really afford this?" and  "do I really need it?" part, simply by buying a Krono for around the price of one month's subscription and selling it in the Bazaar for several million plat. Then I could buy all the gear I need, all the spells and I'd be done.

What would be the point of that, though? For me, at least, it would be a disaster. I can easily understand why someone who wanted to get to the meat of the game, grouping at top level and maybe moving into raiding, would find it an excellent, time-saving and sensible option. For players like me, though, pootling along with just a summoned pet and an NPC who has to be paid to be my friend, how to make the money to get the gear and spells I need is the game. If I bought a Krono and sold it to gear myself I'd be putting myself out of business.

Back in The Overthere, at the spell vendor, I made my selections and slotted my new spells. I re-buffed myself with my new buffs. Very  nice. Then I looked at my new nukes and minions. What the heck, I'm here now. Why not? I can only die, right?

Back in the days of the original Kunark, The Overthere was an excellent zone to hunt. It's big, square, and flat, with excellent visibility. The low-level version also had a zone exit in the middle of each of the four sides, which made running to safety an option from just about anywhere.

I can't say if that last part is true of the high-level zone but the rest certainly is. As I stood on the ramp leading out of the Outpost all I could see stretching away on all sides was flat grass, low hills and blue sky. And a sabertooth tiger.

Just the one big cat. Nothing else in sight. I conned him. Dark blue, level 109. One level below me. Three levels above the air pet. Hmm.

I can't remember the last time I fought a mob just one level below me. Not this return to Norrath, that's for sure. Possibly not this decade. Could it be tougher than a dark blue named, though? I'd killed a few of those recently. Only one way to find out.

It was a long fight but I was always in control. The pet could take the hits, the merc could handle the heals, I could bring the pain. I remembered to check the xp when the cat finally dropped. It was about three times what I'd been getting on light blues in an expansion from four years earlier. Of course, it had probably taken me  three times as long...

But it felt good. So I did it again. And again.

In the end I spent about an hour in The Overthere, scarcely moving twenty meters from the wall, being extremely careful only to pull safe singles. I was acutely aware that one add would mean I'd need to gate.

I didn't get an add. I got one nasty surprise when I pulled a cactus and found my health dropping alarmingly even though the plant was securely stuck to the pet. My mercenary pumped out the heals and kept us all alive but it was a worrying moment.

I checked the combat log and thought I'd figured out what was going on. The next cactus I saw I pulled too and confirmed my suspicions. The walking succulents open with an AE shower of spines that has a DoT effect and a ridiculous range. I'd been hit by that even though I was fifty feet away at least.

This is why hunting in a new zone is always a huge risk. All kinds of things you weren't planning for can happen. It's also why finding new places to hunt can be such fun. Provided you don't die. That can put a crimp in the day's entertainment for sure.

This time the magician didn't die. A load of big cats did, some cacti, a small crab, a chokkidai (sort of like a dinosaur's dog). I avoided the rhinos. I remember them being a pain to hunt the first time around. Also the cockatrices; they have an incredibly irritating and often fatal stun.

I saw a couple of Sarnaks, one of Norrath's several sentient, bipedal lizard races, strutiing about importantly in the distance. I'd have like to have tried one but they were too far out and anyway they conned white and yellow. Level 110 and 111. Too high.

For now. But not when I get that final air pet. With a level 111 tanking for me I think I can handle a single sarnak the same level. I'm looking forward to trying, anyway.

All of which puts me so far ahead of anywhere I ever thought I'd be in EQ it feels unreal. I'm only two expansions behind! I'm only five levels off the cap! All thanks to the Overseer feature, which is now officially my second-favorite expansion feature ever, after Mercenaries. Both of those renewed not only my interest in playing but my ability to follow through.

My immediate plan is to drop back a few expansions and tear through some relatively easy mobs to make not experience but money. I'm going to let the Overseer quests take care of the levelling while I go hunt rich mobs for spell money. It's going to be fun.

Then, when I get 111 and that last pet, we'll see.

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Whole New World Of Adventure

With the New World preview only lasting a week or so there doesn't seem much point in knuckling down and skilling up, although from what I can glean from the Help channel (the only one I have on) that's what everyone else is doing.

From what I've seen so far, crafting is much as I remember it, so I don't think I'm missing out by not spending every waking hour chopping, mining, tanning and weaving. Questing is another matter. There's a whole lot more of a quest infrastructure than there used to be and plenty of lore and backstory to go with it. You need to get your quest head on for this newly re-tooled PvE iteration of New World, or so it seems. You can't just go running off into the wilderness doing your own thing, any more.

People in Help this afternoon were advising against random exploration altogether. Quests tend to send you to specific places to loot particular chests or stashes and if you've already been poking around to see what you could find you'll have trouble getting quest credit for the same chests when you need it.

By the time I saw that advice it was a bit late for me. I was already exploring randomly. I didn't ignore it, though. I made a beeline for the nearest available ruined village so I could start opening chests I had no business opening. Screw you, quest guy! I'm damned if I'm going to let an NPC tell me what to do!

It wasn't quite as childish as that. What I was actually doing was seeing how far up the map I could get before something killed me. It had occurred to me when I logged in that if I wasn't going to settle down and treat the Preview as though it was the Live game I might be better off dropping the main quest line and going walkabout instead.

My random choice of starting location had placed me in the deep south, which explains the whole sub-tropical mangrove swamp thing. Back when I wasn't allowed to talk about it I was in a much more attractive area, all pine forests and lakes. Now that I can see the in-game map, I could roll another character in a more northerly location but then I'd end up doing the basic tutorial steps again and I'd rather not.

So I took to my heels and jogged along the wide path that runs along the shoreline, intending to weave my way slowly north, hitting as many settlements along the way as I could manage. I full expected to get eaten by a bear before I got very far at all but that's not how things turned out.

Very soon after I started I saw my first potential death threat: several extremely large alligators wallowing on a beach by the side of the roadway. I pulled up sharply and took a screenshot before targetting one to see what level it was. Level thirty.

I gave the 'gators a very wide berth and carried on. No sooner had I left them behind me than up ahead I saw the unmistakeable outline of a skeleton. An ambulatory skeleton, wearing armor and carrying  a bow.

There's no mistaking the intent here. You can forget all that initial guff about historical verisimilitude and a quasi-authentic real-world setting. We're squarely back in generic fantasy land and I couldn't be happier about that.

Once again I stopped for a photo-op. I saw several skeletons moving through the brushwood. They were glowing. I wanted to get close to see why they were glowing but I conned them and saw they were far to tough for me.  Best not.

Jogging around a corner I was momentarily stunned to see a gigantic stone structure marching out into the water ahead. The backstory has it that there have been many previous expeditions and many earlier attempts at settlements, all of which have failed. On the evidence they left behind, some of them must have done pretty well before they fell.

As I moved ever northwards the landscape and the flora began to change. I spotted some spectacular and disturbing fungi. I'd have taken samples but I'd neglected to craft myself a sickle and anyway they would have been well above my skill level. You can't just cut up any old plant in New World. You have to start small and work your way up.

Soon after that little pitstop I got that close-up opportunity with a glowing skeleton after all. Be careful what you wish for, isn't that what they say? There were a couple of them guarding a large stone gateway across the path. I could have gone around but where's the fun in that?

Fully expecting to die, I put my head down and sprinted past them. They were slow to react and before I took any damage I was showing them my back. Which one of them proceeded to fill with glowing arrows. I knew they were arrows because I could see one of them sticking out of my arm.

Surprisingly, the undead archer only knocked me down to half health before I was out of range. He didn't follow so I stopped and ate a ration, which magically removed all the damage done. Truly, we are in fantasyland.

If only it worked that way in real life, eh? Broken your leg? Never mind! Here, have a donut. You'll be better in no time!

One more quick stop to examine a glowing rock (Lodestone, way too high skill for me) and I came in sight of a settlement. I'd left my home region of First Light some time back. Now I was in Cutlass Keys. Also, as I realised when I checked the map, I'd been heading east, not north, for most of my run.

Cutlass Keys is an attractive enough town with a large and imposing church. The game calls all these settlements "hamlets", which suggests either the word  has a very different meaning in the U.S. or someone doesn't own a dictionary.

I didn't stop long. I re-oriented myself to be sure that, this time, I really was heading north and then I set off again. Leaving Cutlass Keys, the landscape took a definite turn for the familiar. I was pretty sure I began to recognize some landmarks from my previous life. There were windmills and fir trees and bullrushes. It felt, if not like coming home, then at least like not being too far away.

It was then that I saw the corruption. A dirty, smoky miasma across the water. The kind of  place any sesnible traveller would know to avoid. I ran at it, pushing through the bullrushes, wading through the mud. What else is an explorer to do?

Yeah, well, I found the answer to that one pretty quickly. Turn around and run back the way she came. There weren't any evil undead or demonic entities - those I could have fought. No, there was a big timer showing me my corruption resistance and it was ticking towards zero.

I didn't know what would happen if it reached the end and I didn't want to find out. I'm curious, not crazy.

On the other side of a timber-framed, open-sided, roofed bridge I came across signs of life. Or so I thought. A whole load of dead, stripped trees and some buildings I took to be a logging camp. Well, maybe it was, once.

I'd been exploring for a good while by then and my sword-arm was itching. I felt like killing something. Or unkilling something. We don't quite have the language for undead sorted yet, do we?

Thinking ahead for once, I set up camp on the edge of the clearing. That way, should it turn out I was in over my head, I at least wouldn't have to run all the way back from the Inn at First Light.

As it happened, I needn't have bothered. The undead farmers with their pitchforks were mere level nines and tens. One cook in a shack was eleven but he died just the same after a frenzied fight in close quarters.

With exquisite irony, the most dangerous moment occured when I'd sated my lust for slaughter and trotted back to camp for a rest. I'd no sooner settled down to let the warmth of my campfire hasten my recovery than a brute of an undead farmer tried to spear me between my ribs with his two-tine fork. I'd aggroed him on the run back and not even noticed.

My camp and the false sense of security it brought had nearly done for me but I dealt with the problem in the time-honored manner. I ran the hell away. The farmer gave up a ways down the road and stumped off back to his rotting crops. I abandoned my treacherous camp and jogged on.

Not far up the road came the next settlement, Windsward. I stopped there for a while to get my breath back. It was almost a picture-postcard village with a moss-covered stone bridge over a clean-water brook and an impressive statue in the village square. These liitle towns do nothing to create an impression of a wild and dangerous wilderness beset by ancient evil. They just make me wonder where the coach-park is and how many flavors of ice-cream the local store has to offer.

The sun was going down, filling the streets with a glow that made me wonder if the forest was on fire. If there's one thing New World has in abundance it's lens flare. I was starting to get tired but I thought I'd press on anyway.

As I left the village I got a warning telling me I'd neglected  to register at the inn. Cutlass Keys didn't give me one of those. I wonder why? I went back and spoke to the innkeeper but he told me if I registered with him I'd lose my registration back at First Light so I declined. As it transpired, that was a sound decision.

Outside the town I came across some peculiar hemispherical structures. Like much of the ruined and ancient architecture they looked somehow alien. It makes me wonder whether all of these lost, would-be colonizers were even human.

I took a selfie next to one and carried on. But not for long. As I followed the path I realized, too late, that some of the previous residents were still around. In undead form. Two skeletons set upon me. I had time to register their levels. They differed wildly. One was level nine, the other nineteen.

I thrashed about me wildly with my sword, expecting to die at any second, but to my considerable surprise it was the level nine who went down first. I turned to his higher-level companion and set about him too. I had him at half health when I died.

When you die in New World you have the option to wait for someone to revive you (fat chance), to revive at your camp site, should you have made one, to recall to your bind point in an Inn or to wake up at the nearest settlement. I chose the last, meaning I found myself standing in front of the innkeeper who'd wanted me to give up my residency in First Light. So much for his advice!

I'd done so well against the two skeletons, unprepared, I thought I'd go back out for a rematch with the survivor. Unfortunately, while my character might have been up to it, my computer wasn't. Things were already getting sluggish but the second fight was a jerky, stop-motion disaster. I could barely follow my opponent as he flickered about, far less hit him.

Dead once more, I decided to call it a day. Or a night. The moon was up, after all.

It then took the best part of ten minutes before I could open a web page or close the game. I don't know if this iteration of New World has a memory leak or whether it just has requirements that far outstrip my aging rig but either way playing for more than an hour pretty much stuns my machine into submission.

It makes me think I probably ought to be looking into some upgrades soon - it has been a few years, after all. Certainly, I'm going to need to do something about it before the game comes out, if I want to play it with reasonable facility. And I very definitely do want to play New World. The more I see, the more I like.

Next time I think I will roll a new character and start somewhere up north. I don't think my P.C. would forgive me if I tried to make the run again.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Beginning Of The End : GW2

We know what it's called:

 We know what it looks like (er, kinda...)

We know when we're getting it.

The only thing we don't know is - will it be any good?

By my count, so far ArenaNet are two for three.

The original Guild Wars 2: excellent.

The first expansion, Heart of Thorns: also excellent.

The second expansion, Path of Fire: very bad.

This is a personal opinion. A lot of current and former GW2 players, almost certainly most of them, would disagree with all of those assessments.

It's easy to forget now but GW2 was not that well-received after launch. The game claimed to break the MMORPG mould and for many it succeeded all too well.

Droves of confused and disatisfied MMO tourists tried the open world levelling game, couldn't understand it, didn't like it and left.

Veterans of Dark Age of Camelot or Warhammer and other fans of large-scale, faction-based PvP tried World vs World, didn't like it and left.

Small group players tried the chaotic, trinityless dungeons, didn't like them and left.

PvE zergers who made it through the levels to Orr, found their supposed endgame an unfinished, buggy mess. They tried it, didn't like it and left.

PvP players were embarassed by Anet's determination to make GW2 into an in esport. Whether they stayed or left, who knows? No-one was watching.

The game muddled along for a couple of years, stumbling from crisis to crisis. The Karka debacle, the Ascended gear scandal, the Scarlett fiasco. Content cadence flipped and flopped as ANet struggled to come up with a flow that worked. And failed.

Through all this, there would never be an expansion, we were told.

Then there was an expansion.

Heart of Thorns was tough, uncompromising and difficult. It put the challenge back into a game that had gone soft. It sorted the casuals from the hardcore.

So some said.

Heart of Thorns destroyed solo play, drove casuals to despair and nearly killed the franchise.

So said others.

It seemed pretty easy to me. It was a lot of fun, solo or in zergs. I played it all the way through, twice, and then parts of it a few more times, for fun.

Still, it was widely seen as a mistake. Pandering to the hardcore, Anet had abandoned the core. GW2 had been touted as a game for everyone and somehow now it wasn't.

Also, WvW almost closed down. The Desert Borderland revamp, not strictly part of HoT but added alongside it. was almost universally hated. Players shunned them and eventually Anet first re-revamped then largely removed the entire thing. Even so, the game mode never fully recovered. Most likely it never will.

A couple more years passed and Path of Fire arrived. Second expansion, not the same as the first.

PoF was where I fell off the bus. Until then I'd rolled with all the punches and generally had a good time. PoF was not a good time for me.

I disliked it from the get-go and over the  years I've come to loathe it. I never go there if I can avoid it. I played the story through, once, with gritted teeth. Never again.

That was PvE. PvP I didn't follow. No-one ever seems happy with PvP, though.

WvW fell deeper into despond. PoF elite specs and mounts fractioned the playerbase. Populations dwindled. Servers "linked", which meant merged.

And yet, Path of Fire seems widely admired. It's generally considered a significant improvement over Heart of Thorns. Why? Beats the hell out of me.

And so we look ahead to the third expansion. You'd think, given the trajectory, I'd be pessimistic. The first one, that I liked, failed, relatively speaking. The second one, that I hated, succeeded, relatively speaking.

And if PoF was bad for me, the live content that came after was even worse. The nadir of the game so far.

Only, things have changed. At ANet, things are always changing. Somehow they turn stasis into churn, constantly thrashing yet never seeming to move forward.

A lot of people have left the company since Path of Fire. Not co-incidentally, I'm sure, a year ago, things began to turn. From the start of the Icebrood Saga there seemed to be a new attitude. Someone seemed to want things to be fun again.

And they have been. Mostly. Even when they haven't been fun for me I could see how they would be, if I was still as invested in the game as I once was.

So, I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm hoping that End of Dragons navigates a path between pandering to the hardcore and pacifying the casuals. Evidence suggests that can happen.

Also, expansions need Must-Have Features and the features have to be something that can be monetized. HoT had gliding. PoF had mounts. I loved the first, loathed the second.

What will it be next? Could it be housing? I doubt it. I'll be happy just so it's something that gets ANet off of mounts for a while. God, I hate mounts in this game.

As for the story, well, End of Dragons. You'd think that says it all. And it would be neat. That would make a ten-year arc, near enough,  the supposed expected lifetime of the game. I know we don't talk about Guild Wars 3 but this is looking suspiciously like the end of an era.

And now, of course, we wait. Heart of thorns had a long build up. This is going to be longer still. Maybe. Depends just when in 2021 the train arrives.

I'm sure plenty of people are speculating already. I'll pass on that. I don't care enough about the story or the game any more to spend energy guessing. It'll be here when it gets here and that'll be soon enough.

It's nice to know it's coming, at least.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

You'll Love The New World

Yesterday Amazon threw open the gates for the preview of their much altered and re-scheduled MMORPG, New World. Providing you qualified for the first wave, that is. Judging by the hordes of Robinson Crusoe lookalikes I had to shoulder past to get to the first quest-giver, it looks like qualification wasn't all that hard.

Logging in almost as soon as the game became playable on Steam, I set myself the goal of getting to Level 10 and I'd have made it, too, if it hadn't been for those pesky other players. It may not be a free-for-all PvP game any more but I'd rather fight players than lag any day.

It was fine when I started. A bit choppy in the really busy spots but generally very playable. By the time I was closing in on Level 10 about three hours later, though, my screen was a slideshow and the  game was unplayable.

When I say "lag" I am, of course, using the lazy gamerspeak meaning of "poor frame-rate". My latency was fine. I'd picked a server in the U.S. East Coast cluster, as I said I would, and it had the second-best ping of all of them. The EU server had the lowest, scotching my translatlantic cable theory, but ping isn't everything.

As well as the real world location of your server, you also have to pick an in-game starting location. I wasn't expecting that. There are three choices: Cruel Vista, Deadman's Anchor and Cascade Harbor but nothing to tell you the difference between them.

It's an important decision because you can only make characters on one server in each location. There's a warning about it in case you planned to play with friends. I imagine the choice sets PvP factions in the way you had to choose between Albion, Hibernia and Midgard in Dark Age of Camelot. I always liked that set-up.

Since I didn't know anything about any of them and since I'll only be here for a week, I just went with the server at the top of the list, Leyroot (Cruel Vista). Once that decision was made, up came a cinematic with a rather good opening, the camera swooping down to street level from the rooftops to reveal an intimidating figure in ornate plate armor. Then the action moves to a sailing ship at sea and... cut!

My turn again. On to character creation

Options there are good, if limited. Two genders, plenty of hairstyles and skin tones, several faces, all the basics. None of the extreme body modding you get in imported MMOs, which suits me. I like playing around with sliders but I like not being tempted to even more. I wouldn't mind being able to change the color of my eyes, though.

Character duly created, it was back to the cinematic, which, it turns out, had merely paused, not ended. The mini-movie continued, now with my character in the central role. A nice touch. She waited on deck, attentive, while someone explained the plot. Then a monster appeared and the screen went black.

Haven't I been here before? Don't call the lawyers! I don't mean in the previous under-NDA tests. I mean in every MMO since the dawn of time. How many of them begion with your character travelling somewhere then being attacked and waking up alone and in rags on a beach? Is it all of them?

At least it's traditional. And New World is turning out to be a lot more of a traditional MMORPG than many people seemed to think it was going to be. Or wanted it to. Not me, of course. The more old-school it cleaves, the better I like it.

The first few minutes couldn't be more familiar. As you struggle through the waves to shore the game tells you all the basics, like what keys to press to move (WASD - did you guess?) and hit things (Left Mouse Button. Yes, it's one of those).

There isn't a lot to learn but I still didn't like some of the choices I was given. Who uses "E" for Interact, ffs?  So I changed the ones I didn't like, which you're free to do. Problem solved. Oh, except for "Hide UI", which for some inexplicable reason is hard-locked to Alt-H. I hate multiple key combos. Ah, well. Blogger problems. No-one cares about those.

Speaking of blogger problems, we're not allowed to say anything about previous alphas or betas or whatever they were, which, while not being anywhere near as frustrating as not being able  to say anything about the game at all, is still annoying. All I'll say in conclusion about the opening few minutes of the game is hmm.... déjà vu. And bear in mind I wasn't even invited to the more recent test.

The introduction concludes with a "boss" fight, all very flashy and spectacular, with a scripted ending and then you're into the game proper. Once again, all very familiar.

From then on, for as far as I got in my first session, the flow felt linear and quest-driven. Hardly surprising or unreasonable since at this stage it is mostly an extended tutorial. It definitely feels more like a traditional quest-driven MMORPG than an open-world survival game, even if much of what the quests are teaching you could be regarded as surivival mechanics.

One thing that occurred to me quite quickly was that the environment wasn't as luminously beautiful as I'd been expecting. Partly that was because Cruel Vista turned out to be oddly tropical, rather than the deciduous forest-and-plain I was expecting. I think it must be in the Florida-equivalent part of the New  World.

I checked my settings anyway and found they were all defaulted to "High"  except for the overall graphical quality, which for some reason was set to "Low". I know I have an ageing PC that barely qualified as mid-range when I bought it more than five years ago but still. Surely I can do better than that.

I flipped the rogue setting to match the others. Things looked a lot better after that and I didn't notice any deterioration in performance. That didn't come until later. There are two more quality levels above that so I imagine most people are seeing something even more spectacular than I am. I might experiment further, although everything looks pretty enough to be going on with on "High".

If the countryside looked good, the town, when I got there, looked fantastic. I was more surprised to find there was a town than how good it looked. I know we aren't supposed to talk about the before-times but, well, this was the first "town" I ever saw in the game. It seems this version of New World takes place in a slightly different time-frame, when there's still something approaching a functional society with a working infrastructure rather than just a few beleagured wooden forts and a whole load of ruins.

Town was bustling. It was here that I began to run into technical problems. I'd had to take an  unexpected break for an hour to go cut up a large chunk of one of our trees that the gales had just   brought down in my neighbor's garden. By the time I got back it was late-afternoon on the East Coast and the crowds were thick on the streets.

I went from NPC to NPC, learning how to use the bank and the crafting stations and generally being groomed to become a useful member of society. Talking to NPCs felt strange. None of them spoke out loud, which did seem odd in a game this slick and polished. Maybe that's why they need another year, to record all the voiceovers.

I'm so used to voice acting in MMORPGs now it's jarring to find it isn't there. It wouldn't matter so much if the text was worth reading, I guess. Don't I always say I can do the voices better in my head?  It's not as though the quest dialog is bad, not by any means, It's competently written, grammatically correct and the NPCs are keen to talk about matters that feel like they ought be intriguing and mysterious. It just feels a little flat and unconvincing. Decent voice-acting would probably cover that.

But  then, I 've said the very same about the quest writing in Elder Scrolls Online, which many people think is some of the best in the genre, so what do I know? And quest text is one of my little things. I'm not sure most people would either notice or care. How many players even read the quest text to begin with?

For those who do, and who feel strongly about it, there's a feedback survey you can opt to take. It pops up after you close the game. Most of it is rankings. I gave nearly everything 80%or better because I really like the game.

They also ask for suggestions to make the game better and I said I thought the NPCs needed more flavor. My only other observation was that the survey asked too many questions that couldn't reasonably be answered after one session. If that's the worst I can come up with the game must be doing pretty much everything right.

Well, for the first ten levels, at least. Can't speak for what happens after that. maybe next time. Or maybe not. I have about a week to play and athough I can absolutely guarantee that, were this the first week of New World's live launch, I'd be giving it several hours of my time every day, I'm not so sure I'm going to push that hard just for a Preview character that will be wiped in a week.

This is a first impressions piece, though, and you don't have to get all that far or play for very long to have some of those. Mine are extremely positive. I like New World a lot. At the risk of breaking that earlier NDA I'll confirm I always did. It doesn't do anything you won't have seen before but everything it does, it does well. It's solid, entertaining, accessible and polished. What more do you want?

I'm very curious to see what else Amazon thinks needs to be added before launch that's going to take them a whole year. I'm pretty sure plenty of supposedly AAA MMORPGs have gone to market in a less finished state than this. I wonder if it's perfectionism or professionalism that lies behind the delay.

I guess we'll find out a year from now. I don't think they'll miss another launch date.

I sure hope not. I want to play.
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