A fond farewell

If you have not yet seen the Wayfarer’s Reverie quests in Guild Wars, do yourself a favor and go check them out.

Not because you get a Tormented weapon for completing them all…but because it’s a lovely, nostalgic look back at a game that many of us played for years.

I don’t think I spent an entire day in GW1 since I completed vanquishing Cantha – it’s been well over a year. I’ve completed the things I want to do, I’ve bought the items and armors I want, I’m at 45/50 in my Hall of Monuments, and I’m happy with that.

And yet that’s what I spent my Saturday evening and all day Sunday doing – playing Guild Wars. And I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun doing so.

Several members of my guild for GW2, I Can Outtweet a Centaur!, met up to do the Wayfarer quests. We had fun. We did stupid things while running from point to point. We spent 45 minutes failing at an easy dungeon because we wanted treasure. We sat under the Pale Tree, made jokes about all sorts of inappropriate things, and hung out in Eye of the North dancing while using hero tonics. And thanks to one of our guild members accidentally recording two hours of gameplay (and filling his harddrive in the process), we’ll have this on video forever.

We decided to do Fissure of Woe on Sunday afternoon. I had decided that I wanted to send off my oldest GW character, my Ranger and my nickname’s namesake with a set of Obsidian armor. I helped finance sets of Obby for three other guildies so that they could get the points for their HoM. This completely wiped out the remainder of the money I had in-game, but it was more than worth it. Almost anything would be worth having so much fun with such an amazing group of people.

But one thing that most of us realized during all of this…this is likely the last time any of us will really play GW1. We’ll still log in for events and the like, I’m sure, but the days of playing all the time are over. While this is because of Guild Wars 2 launching in a week and headstart being in just over four days…it’s really kind of sad. The GW-EN farewell party refered to it as an end of an era, and really…I can’t think of any better way to describe it. There will never be another game like Guild Wars again. It really was a one of a kind thing, a very unique sort of game.

But sometimes it’s time to move on. There reaches a point where you’ve done everything in a game, and it no longer holds the appeal it used to. I will always love GW1, but it will never again hold the same sense of wonder and amazement that it used to. It’s time for Guild Wars 2 to prove itself.

And so I say to you, my dear Guild Wars, farewell. And even if I don’t log in frequently, I will never stop loving this game. To everyone I have met because of this game – thank you, for so many things. You are all amazing.

I will see you all in Guild Wars 2 this weekend.

Kel (@ebonywolf21), Optimus Maleficus (@mr_ex, Malefic Incantations), AJ (@AJWolf84, The Lore Wolf), and myself.

After years of waiting…

Five years now, since Guild Wars 2 was first announced.

Now, I haven’t been following it all that time. Five years ago, I had barely heard of Guild Wars at all – it was this game my brother and one of his friends played. My main memory of it at the time was my brother tackling his best friend in my store because his friend bought him a copy of Factions. I thought it looked interesting, but the whole “online game” part of it put me off – at this point I’d already tried both WoW and FFXI and hated both, so I wasn’t much into the idea of another MMO. He got really into it, and told me I had to try it. I decided, okay, I’ll give it a go. I made an Elementalist in Prophecies and played a bit, and it was decently fun, but didn’t grab my attention. So I left it.

About a year later, during the fall of 2008, a friend of mine started playing it. And got really into it. And insisted I had to play it. At this point, Prophecies was $20, so I decided why not. I’ll give it a go again. However, disaster struck – my mom’s computer decided that after running the game fine for ages it would no longer do so (and I had support completely baffled trying to figure it out), and my own computer was so old that it couldn’t run the game at all. My computer was also old and crappy enough that upgrading it was not an option. After a month or two of irritation, I managed to buy a second-hand computer from another friend and hurrah! I could run the game!

And history was made. Prophecies still had a hard time drawing me in, but a coworker bought me Factions for Christmas, and that was it, I was hooked. I bought myself and my brother both Nightfall that year just after Christmas. I got Eye of the North not much longer after that. I talked about it enough that my boyfriend bought the Platinum edition, and then I bought him a copy of Factions. When helping out at another store, I discovered they still had a Nightfall CE – and it was only $10! I bought it in a heartbeat. I managed to get the Factions CE online. I fell in love with the Dervish profession, and my Dervish became my main.

Then two things happened in pretty quick succession – the Guild Wars 2 announcement at gamescom in 2009, and me getting into twitter.

My first steps into actually becoming a part of the community began when I joined GuildMag as a designer for the magazine. My actual stint as one was rather on and off, and eventually I had to step down entirely as I simply did not have the time for it, but if not for that, and deciding to give twitter a try (I’ve had my account for ages but used to hate twitter) and following the other GuildMag members, I would not be writing this blog today.

The twitter community for Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 is amazing. Optimus writes a bit about it in an entry posted yesterday about the guild we’ve set up (which somehow I wound up as leader of!), but it was my slow involvement in the twitter community that gave me the idea of starting a blog of my own. Many of the people I had followed and became friends with were bloggers, and I enjoyed reading what they wrote, and I had plenty of ideas and thoughts of my own – so why not give it a try?

At this point, when I decided I was going to give blogging a try of my own, I’d been following Guild Wars 2 for almost 2 years. I’d heard of it before the announcement at gamescom, but there was precious little info. Still, I adored Guild Wars. Any sequel to it was something that would certainly pique my interest. Then gamescom 2009 came, and we got some info on it…and honestly, I was a bit put off at first! Persistent worlds? Oh, no! I loved how instanced GW1 was. I am, as a whole, not a terribly social gamer (which makes how things are now even funnier for me). I prefer to do things largely on my own, on my own schedule. I was also very wary of the idea of people coming along to screw up something I had been doing. I didn’t want to have to play with others people.

And that hesitation remained right up until I actually got to play during the first BWE. Now I realize that I was silly to be so down on that fact. But at the time it was a genuine worry.

I had fallen in love with the sylvari from the very first moment I saw them. I remember finding myself highly disappointed on how little they were ever shown and how little info about them we were ever given. When the redesign was announced, it made me even more impatient to see how they had turned out. I wanted to know their lore, what they believed, everything about them. I collected every bit of info about them that I could find, giving this blog a sylvari-themed name. While, strictly speaking, my blog is not sylvari-themed (beyond the name and color scheme), there’s no denying I do write about them a lot, and I rather pride myself in my knowledge of them.

And so in early 2011, I started up this blog. I began to write. I enjoyed it! At first I wrote a lot about Guild Wars 1, and I didn’t really set out to have any specific goals about my articles. I just wrote because I had thoughts that I wanted to express. I didn’t ever really share the blog around much, as I’ve always been afraid of showing off my stuff, worrying that what I write isn’t good enough and no one will care. And then, one of my early posts was retweeted by ArenaNet. It’s probably silly, but that fact put me over the moon. People actually did want to read what I wrote! And on top of that, the people working on the game, thought that what I wrote was worth reading!

At that point, I decided it was time to start taking blogging a bit more seriously.

It’s been a long road, but I feel I’ve carved myself out a small niche. I’ve scored an interview with some of the writers for Guild Wars 2, I was invited to help give away keys for BWE3, and mine and Dak’s posts about BWE3 were linked to in an ANet blog post. As a fan, who does this because I love it and I love this game and community so much? Those things are amazing. I’ve made a lot of friends, all of whom are amazing, and we talk about everything under the sun. We decided to start up a twitter community GW2 guild during BWE3, and wound up close to 40 members just over the weekend, and we decided to keep it going at launch. I got Dak interested in blogging – something that he’d never done before, and now I giggle whenever he flails about his posts getting linked around, because not so long ago at all I was in the same position he was – just amazed and surprised by it all.

And on top of that, blogging like this has made me realize what my real passion is.

So, thank you, ArenaNet, for making a game that has inspired such passion in people, and has given me years of amazing memories while just waiting for the game to release – and is sure to give us years more while playing the game.

This entry is for the fourth GuildMag blog carnival, “Five years of waiting“.

Some simply shiny sentences showing skritt sentiment.

Dak here, with an in-depth look into one of my surprise favorite elements of the game.

So I briefly mentioned the skritt in my last post talking about the asura.  Now, I’ll be… not so brief.

The skritt are a ratlike race who, along with the asura, were originally living in the depths of Tyria but were driven upward by Primordus and the Destroyers.  They are opportunists, but not scavengers – rather than dig through your garbage, they’ll mooch off you instead; doing their best to convince you you don’t really need that neat shoulderpad, or if your backpack is really heavy they’ll be happy to relieve you of any unnecessary items.  They’re also exceptionally curious, so if they get their paws on an unknown device, they’ll eventually sort out how it works and why.

Now, what makes the skritt so interesting?  They communicate in a high-pitched, almost inaudible chittering, through which they can relay a vast amount of information in a very short time.  While a single skritt is only capable of basic tasks and survival skills, through this chittering a group of skritt can work together to solve a problem.  The larger the group, the more complex the tasks it can tackle.  While a single skritt is rather dim, a big enough group could potentially rival an asura in intelligence.

Over the beta weekend, the skritt were available for interaction at last.  I first encountered them in a fort just south of Artergon Woods: a pair who had been trained for the simple task of guarding supplies.  I was instantly enchanted when I heard them concentrating so hard on guarding that they were, in fact, saying “Guarding.  Guarding guarding!” back and forth to one another.  My amusement was interrupted by a sudden hylek attack on the fort, which a group of players and I managed to repel. (one thing to point out, I love how whenever an event begins, a group of players seem to materialize from nowhere to join in and make the event more… eventful).  The invaders successfully routed, the Lionguard commander in charge of the fort decided it was high time to take the fight to the hylek and regain their stolen items, and sent a single skritt named Rikkiti to a Lionguard assault force near the hylek village.  The event is then to escort her as she runs the message to attack.

Rikkiti started out dutifully enough, but soon was distracted by the much more interesting moa nests by the side of the road. “Stuff stuff stuff!” came her shrill cry, until an angry moa (which we swiftly subdued) scared her off and she fled back to the path.

Imagine, if you will, the sight of some 20 people of all races chasing after an eager, innocent skritt as she quite accidentally attracts the ire of a giant grubs, a golem, disgruntled krewemembers, hungry raptors, and a full pack of apparently teleporting jaguars, with shouts of “Ooh, shi-hi-hinyyy!” and “What’s that!” It was quite the unexpected quest, and a ton of fun centered on a surprisingly endearing individual.

“Sheriff want shinies back. Rikkiti get shinies!  Teach hyleks stealing bad.”
“And did our ineffectual sheriff offer any thought on how precisely we might accomplish that?”
“Yes… no… what?”
“(sigh)Sheriff say how we get shinies back?”
“Oooh.  Deputy talk like Rikkiti stupid! Rikkiti not stupid!”

All the more surprising was when we reached her destination, and it flowed smoothly into a more traditional event: Destroy the hylek village and essentially burn -everything-.

Rikkiti joined us for that, too, and soon she had gathered all the “shinies” from the decimated village and returned to the fort while we taught the hylek chieftain that stealing was bad.

That event chain left a great effect on me, and I was delighted when I moved north into the Brisban Wildlands and found that there was, in fact, a massive skritt city called Skrittsburgh dug deep into a mountain.  While none of the skritt there were as singularly endearing as Rikkiti, it was interesting in another way: With so many in close proximity, these skritt were, in fact, more intelligent.  They were able to speak about more complex ideas and offer rewards for tasks, and as I delved deeper I found among their piles of hoarded items full, working tailoring and smithing stations.  Only a short way away there were even shops run by entrepreneurial skritt.  In the deepest reaches of Skrittsburgh, skritt soldiers held back encroaching Destroyers from underground.  It was a full, living city, and the race isn’t even a main one!  Kudos to Anet for this sort of dedication and the masterful way in which they fully realized this concept.

While I’m looking forward to the entirety of the game, when we hit launch I’ll be putting aside time to spend with the skritt, whether it’s helping them defend what they’ve rightfully stolen, or just chuckling at their more innocent antics.

Gotta give credit, that is pretty accurate.
…hey! – V

New Dynamic Event: Centaurs invade the Underworld!

So a few nights ago, a few friends (TriggerSad, Sharn_Vendeta, and damagedself) decided to try an Underworld run. We ultimately didn’t succeed (damn you Talhkora and your over-aggroing ways), but we did have a lot of fun. A lot of the chat we had on skype was about Guild Wars 2 and things from it we missed – such as the fact that we couldn’t jump (would have been very helpful at some points) and couldn’t dodge.

And then Sharn used his Zhed tonic, said “New dynamic event! Centaurs are invading the Underworld!”, and it got me thinking.

I would really, really love to see the Underworld as a dungeon in Guild Wars 2.

Now, nothing as silly as “centaurs are trying to take over”, but, honestly, how cool would that be, to be able to see how the UW has changed in the 250 years since GW1? I mean, obviously things are still active there, considering how portals to the Underworld will open up all over Godslost Swamp, where the Black Curtain and Temple of the Ages used to be. Aatxes are among the things that spawn from the portals when you destroy them – yes, those same Aatxes. And then there’s the Shadow Behemoth itself, that may break out of the Underworld and needs to be defeated.

It seems to me like things in the Underworld have worsened since Dhuum’s awakening.

I also think it’s an area that would benefit heavily from a GW2 upgrade, in terms of game mechanics. The Underworld in GW1 is a twisted maze that’s not easy to navigate, by any means. So many times we found ourselves looking down on where we needed to go, wishing we had a z-axis so we could just jump down. Also, the area is already set up as a chain of quests; imagine how neat it would be if those were replaced with a series of dynamic events, with things changing depending on what you did. Of course, as it would be a dungeon it would be instanced, so if you did ‘win’ a specific area you wouldn’t have to worry about respawns coming along to destroy all of your hard work. The presence of waypoints would also greatly help out here, as there’s nothing so frustrating as spending two hours clearing things and completing quests only to die and get kicked back out.

I think that if we get extra content between expansions, some of it will likely consist of a new dungeon or two. I really think that the Underworld as a dungeon would be great for that sort of thing, and I doubt I’m the only person that would want to see that old haunt return with an upgrade, and how things have changed over the years. What do you think? What area from GW1 would you like to see return in some manner?

Gamer tested, kid approved!

So, as it so happens to be, I am part of a family of gamers. I started at the wee age of not-quite-three when my parents got an NES for Christmas, and the rest is history. My siblings all quite enjoy video games as well; my brother is the one that got me interested in Guild Wars in the first place!

One day when I was playing Guild Wars, nearly three years ago, my littlest sister (now ten years old) asked me if she could create a character. She specifically asked if she could make a character that could set things on fire and raise undead minions. Sure, why not! I said, and let her loose on the character creator. Thus, Isabella Windfire, an Elementalist/Necromancer, was born in Elona.

Isabella’s gone through some changes, as has my sister’s playstyle, as she’s gotten a bit older. She doesn’t use minions anymore, having realized that splitting too heavily between two professions like that just winds up with not being very good with either. She decided she wasn’t happy with the original hairstyle she had used, and used one of the makeover credits I had on my account to give Isabella a new hairstyle – a Canthan one. She managed to play a decent way through both Nightfall and Eye of the North on her own, learning to use her skills. I helped her set up my heroes, of course, and gave her free run of the contents of my storage. She’s also managed to collect a few sets of armor – a Shing Jea/Canthan mix that is blue, pink Tyrian, orange Iceforged, and at last, the red Elite Sunspear that you can see here (she also eventually wants a Norn set). She loves having minipets, and also loves using summoning stones.

Basically, the point of all of this, is that she loves Guild Wars. It’s simple enough that a kid can figure out how to play it, though it takes far more skill and time to really master the game. So when I started telling her about Guild Wars 2…she was excited. Very much so. She was particularly excited about being able to play as a charr, as Pyre is her favorite hero in GW1. She asks me every so often if there’s any new news for GW2. She asked me if she can create a character on my account (she wants to play a charr necromancer or elementalist).

And of course, her excitement about it got my youngest brother, who is about to turn nine, interested in the game as well!

So last week when the stress test happened, I found that I actually had very little time to play. They both had been asking if they could play, so I decided to let them each create a character and play for a bit instead of playing much myself.

The two of them had a blast, to put it mildly. My brother chose to make a human warrior that he had named Skull Man. He declared the opening fight against the Elemental “completely epic!”, and quickly decided that he really, really liked using a mace. My sister surprised me a bit; she made a charr elementalist she had named Katika Scourgepaw, but I had expected her to pick fire as her favored element. Instead, she went for water. She had wanted to have pink fur, but since it wasn’t possible, she instead went for hot pink armor. My brother didn’t really play with the sliders much, but my sister went to town with them.

Needless to say…the two loved the game. They had so much fun with it. They’re both asking me if they can make characters when the game releases. I fear that if I do, I’ll hardly get to play myself because they’ll always be wanting to play! I’ll definitely let them both play more during the next BWE.

And personally, I love that I can share a game I enjoy so much with my younger siblings and see them have so much fun with it. So, enemies of Tyria, beware – there’s a bright pink charr and a warrior dressed in green coming for you!

Milestones and Moving Forward

Well! It’s hard to believe, but as of today I’ve been writing Under the Pale Tree for a full year. Amazing! When I started out this blog, I didn’t think that I would be able to stick with it this long, let alone have it turn out like it has. There’s been some ups and downs (and some points where I just didn’t have the energy to write), but I’m glad I’ve stuck it out. Happy birthday, dear blog!

Speaking of birthdays, yesterday the Seventh Anniversary celebration for Guild Wars kicked off! If you haven’t yet logged on there, then definitely make sure to do so! In particular, go talk to Ceira, Sworn to Fire, in Embark Beach. She’s one of the group of four standing on the boat. She’s got a very…fiery present for us all; don’t worry, though! They won’t bite. Us, anyway.

The celebration will last through May 8th, so you’ve got some time, but I wouldn’t suggest putting it off, as there are also other bonuses for playing during this time – ones I haven’t seen before for a celebration like this.

However, I’m sure everyone will be taking a break from Guild Wars this weekend, because the first Beta Weekend Event for Guild Wars 2 starts on Friday at noon PDT. Yesterday they started sending out emails to everyone with a link to download the beta client, so be sure to watch your inbox for that. There was also a blog post made about servers – so make sure to coordinate with your friends as to which server you’re all planning on playing on, since guesting won’t yet be available and you’ll only be able to change once during the BWE!

And as for what we’re planning on doing during the BWE? First and foremost, I will be setting up my guild, and have already set up forums for those who wish to join up with us. If you want a casual, laid-back, respectful and (relatively) mature group to play with, do check us out. You’re not limited on the number of guilds you can join, so don’t be afraid to join! We will be playing on Eternal Grove this weekend, so make sure that if you want to play with us, you pick that server!

I have decided on a human Mesmer as what I will primarily be playing for the weekend. Dak is going to be a charr, either Ranger or Warrior. I know that I want to take a look specifically at crafting, both because of the fact that I love crafting in games, and because I’ve seen little on it. If Dak covers anything in particular, I’ve a feeling it will be jumping puzzles :P We will also be taking lots and lots of screenshots and videos. I may even play around with streaming some gameplay – keep an eye on our twitter account for more info on that!

So here’s for one year of blogging mayhem, and hopefully with the release of Guild Wars 2 around the corner, there will be several years more! And a huge thank you to everyone who reads and visits this site. You guys are all awesome <3

Guild Wars: Just as diverse as reality.

Last week, I wrote about how Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 are in terms of representing women in their games, and the consensus I reached was – rather well done. Not 100% perfect, but well done. Better than most games around. This week I am going to talk about another area where GW has shown themselves to be more progressive than many other games – the presentation of race and ethnicity.

Put short, this isn’t a white-washed series of games.

Starting out in Prophecies, at least, the game seems to be a standard Western fantasy game – the setting, as well as the characters, all seem to be western European. And then the Searing happens, you leave Ascalon…and that is about the last time you see that from the games again. The next place you visit in the game, Kryta, is still clearly European…but the inhabitants of Kryta are darker-skinned, with a more Mediterranean look to them. This includes not only the standard NPCs that are all over the region, but also the White Mantle and Shining Blade members themselves.

The Shining Blade leadership in Prophecies

Factions and Nightfall are games based in regions with cultures that are not typical Western fantasy at all; Nightfall really shines at setting itself apart, but I’ll get back to that one. Factions is set in an East Asian setting. It’s mostly Japanese…which, okay, yeah. That’s a bit cliche. But considering the fact that anime had just become very popular in the US not long before Factions was released, isn’t too surprising. The campaign isn’t entirely based on just Japan, though; there are also Chinese influences there (the celebration of Canthan New Year, for example, which takes place real-time during the Lunar New Year, and the fact that Cantha uses the Chinese zodiac cycle). There are also two vassal nations that are ruled by Cantha – the Kurzicks, which are heavily Germanic (the names in particular) and use architecture reminiscent of Gothic architecture, as well as the Luxons, a nomadic people whose names tend to be based on Greek names.

Istani Sunspears

And then we have Nightfall. My favorite campaign for a number of reasons. Nightfall truly stands here, I think. The setting is one that is not at all commonly used in games; the Elonan nations are based on and influenced by a blend of Northern African cultures, as well as some Middle Eastern influences (especially in Vabbi). As a result, there are almost no typical white European characters in Nightfall – except for possibly your player character and a few henchmen (mostly the ones recruited to help from Tyria). The Zaishen are also there, but they are Canthan in origin. Elona as a whole is portrayed to having been in the best shape of the three continent seen in the games – Tyria had Ascalon battling the Charr for ages, the Cataclysm, and the rise of the White Mantle long before the game started. Cantha has been dealing with the war between the Kurzick and Luxons as long as the Empire had existed, as well as increasingly xenophobic tendencies.

Whereas Elona has Istan, a nation that is a meritocracy as well as the home of the Sunspears, who protect the entire continent; Kourna, a more war-like and militarized nation; and Vabbi, a rich province led by a trio of merchant-princes. All three nations were able to co-exist with no problems until Varesh began poking into Abaddon and Kormir awakened the Apocrypha. They have a thriving economy, and while the three nations are separate from each other, they do, up until the game has started, work together quite well.

“But, Verene,” you might be asking. “What’s the point of mentioning this? Why does it all matter?”

Well, here’s the thing. A lot of video games in the west tend to feature solely white characters, and if they do feature anyone of other races, it’s done so in a way that panders to stereotypes. In other words, it tends to be not handled well and it’s not uncommon for it to be downright offensive.

Guild Wars, though, blows this out of the water. There are other races and ethnicities than just “generic white person” shown, and they’re shown to be intelligent and competent, as opposed to simply falling back on offensive stereotypes in their portrayals. The argument can be made that Varesh Ossa, a black woman, is the most terrifyingly competent character in the entire series. This is so exceedingly rare in games as to likely be almost unique.

(I intended to talk more about Kormir and Varesh in this post, but there’s so much about them that I could discuss I plan to save it for a future post.)

I do hope that Guild Wars 2 continues in this trend. I hope that there are expansions where Cantha and Elona can be visited. I was very pleased to hear a few weeks ago that, while if you create a human you are playing a Krytan, you can choose to be ethnically Canthan or Elonan (pleased me as my human thief will be the descendant of my Dervish, so I needed the option to make a black character). I can’t wait to see the variety of characters we’ll see in-game, and I do hope that we do see a wide variety. Why take a step back from what your previous games established, after all?

Posts still to come in this series include discussions on sexuality and religion and how they are handled in the Guild Wars universe.

Guild Wars: The Game of Badass Ladies

Not too long ago in the comments of a post on Livejournal, a small discussion popped up about diversity in video games and how most of the industry tends to not be very progressive (in terms of including strong women characters, characters that are not white, and characters that are not straight). It was pointed out that, while it’s not entirely perfect, the Guild Wars series is likely one of, if not the most progressive major game series around.

There’s a lot to talk about on these subjects, and it’s going to get long, so this will be broken up into several posts over the next couple of weeks. Here is part one, discussing the presence of strong women in Guild Wars, and women in general, within the games.

Trust me, you won't want to mess with her.

I’ve noticed that in many games, there’s a magic ratio of 3:1; where for every three male characters, there’s one female character. While the numbers (among heroes and henchmen) are not entirely 1:1, they’re certainly far better than 3:1; I counted up the heroes and of the 29 available, 11 of them are women, nearly 40% of them. Pretty good! I didn’t count up the henchmen, as there are a lot and many overlap between the campaigns, but a quick glance over the lists show that it’s a very similar proportion to the heroes.

Now, in most fantasy games, novels, movies, etc., the female characters are generally relegated to the roles of magic casters, and healers in particular. Here we have another place where GW likes to subvert the trope a bit. While yes, a lot of the female henchies tend to be casters, they’re not absolutely stuck to those roles only. In fact, the heroes completely flip that, with seven of the women being professions that are not casters, and only four being magic casters – and only one of those casters being a Monk. Of the non-magic professions, only Warriors have more male heroes than female – Assassins and Rangers are dominated by women, and Dervishes have one woman, one man, and one golem. The magic casting professions are far more male-dominated, with no female Elementalists, one Monk, one Mesmer, one Ritualist, and one Necromancer. An interesting flip of what you usually see!

The presence of women in the series carries over to NPCs, and amongst the major ones, ones that have power or are well-known, the games really shine. I mean, first and foremost, the Six Gods that humans worship. Of the six, four of them are women, and Dwayna is the leader of the six. That’s pretty awesome. The Shining Blade’s leadership was very heavily female-dominated, and the two monarchs of Kryta that we know of (Salma in GW1, and Jennah in GW2) are both women. In Factions we have Soar Honorclaw, leader of the Angchu Tengu, Reiko Murakami, head of the Ministry of Purity, and Vizu, who defeated Shiro the first time around; the Luxon clans are all led by women. The Sunspears were led by Kormir, and the ruler of Kourna was Varesh Ossa. The Ebon Vanguard was first led by Captain Langmar and then Gwen. Destiny’s Edge in Guild Wars 2 has Eir, Caithe, and Zojja – three of the five members are women. The Vigil, one of the Orders that can be joined in GW2, is led by Almorra Soulkeeper.

(Caithe and her awesomeness will be further discussed in a later post.)

She will mess you up.

While we’re at it, let’s take a quick look at the charr. The shamans decided to bar the women from fighting, and boy did that come back to bite them in the ass – Kalla Scorchrazor led the other female charr (who of course had been training in secret) against the Flame Legion, ignoring orders from the shamans that they were to stay at home. The presence of Kalla and her warriors doubled the number of charr fighting the Flame Legion, overthrowing them easily, and effectively changed charr society permanently. Anyone that tries to tell a female charr that she’s not the equal of a male likely will regret it very quickly.

Also, don’t forget the “six or none!” ultimatum when it came to designing the female charr.
Even minor NPCs – quest givers, collectors, and even just the guards you see patrolling (especially the Sunspears, Kournan guards, and Vabbian guards) hold a great number of women, definitely many more than I can recall seeing in many other games.

Now, is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s still far better than any other game I’ve played, and is certainly far ahead of most of the gaming industry at this point in time. And as a woman who likes (non-sexist and non-stereotypical) representation within media, I’m pretty pleased with how ArenaNet has done things so far, and how they continue to handle things.

And with that, Happy International Women’s Day to my readers!

What more games should be learning from GW/GW2.

Recently, I played the beta test weekends for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Now, before I say anything about the game, let me make it clear that I am a huge, huge Star Wars fan. I love Star Wars, I grew up with the movies, I’ve played most of the SW video games that have released and read a great number of the books.

That said, I am not the sort of fan that holds something to a “can do no wrong” standard. I have no problems criticizing something I am a fan of. I’ve done it many a time before to things within the Star Wars universe. So, with that said. Did TOR live up to my expectations?

Sadly, the answer is yes, as I didn’t have high expectations for it in the first place. Initially I did – I thought it looked amazing and that it’d be a blast…and then as they released more and more information about it, and it began to look more and more bland. And the final product just couldn’t be more generic.

The entire time I was playing, I couldn’t help but constantly think “Guild Wars did this better”, or “Guild Wars 2 is doing this better”. Now, of course, most of these failings are just endemic to the MMO genre and are not unique to TOR – you could insert any game (WoW, Everquest, LOTRO, Rift, FFXI) in here for most of the points and it remain the same. TOR played up how it was going to be different a lot at first, though, and obviously fell way short of that.

Not to mention the fact that with Star Wars? They easily could have afforded to branch out and do new things. Instead, they decided to go the safe route.

So what were the glaring things I noticed that they could have learned to do better from GW/GW2?

Don’t lock race/species selection to class.

So, GW2 has eight professions and five races. TOR has eight professions and nine races. You’d think that TOR would allow more variety in what you can create?

Well, you’d be wrong. Each class in TOR is limited to a choice between five races (for the most part, I believe one or two of them were limited to only four). A couple of the choices make sense – the Sith race and Rattataki being restricted to Sith/Imperial options, for example. But the rest? Initially it was justified in that your race would influence the starting story. However, as it has turned out…it doesn’t. The only thing I noticed was a single dialogue option in a sidequest if you were a Sith Sith (sounds redundant). That’s it.

I myself had wanted to make a Mirialan Bounty Hunter, as I have an RP character that is a Mirialan bounty hunter that works for the Empire. Bounty Hunter is an Imperial character class. Score! Or, well, not. Because for some unknown reason, you cannot create a Mirialan Bounty Hunter. Nor can you make a Twi’lek Agent, or a Mirakulan Smuggler…and if you want to be a Sith Warrior? Hope you like humans.

Whereas in GW2…while NPCs for the most part will only be of certain race/profession combos, for your character, you can pick whatever you want. Want to make a sylvari Engineer, or asura Warrior, or charr Elementalist? Go for it. You’re not locked down to a specific role. Nor should you be. You’re playing as a hero, and heroes are allowed to defy the norm.

Make the races actually look different.

Oooooh boy. Now, in TOR, the races you can select from (human, Mirialan, Miraluka, Twi’lek, Zabrak, Cyborg, Chiss, Rattataki, and Sith pureblood) are all…very human-like. Cyborg is simply a human with some cybernetic mods, and the others are all either humanoid or near-human.

Unfortunately, TOR also tends to keep the customization choices between them nearly the same…to see what I mean, here’s a video I made of the main character creation options. I did not record body type, complexion, eye color, or for most skin tone, and after a while I started leaving out scar options as they are the same across everything (except female Rattataki and male Twi’lek…which also have the same options).

Now, compare that to GW2′s character creator…and keep in mind that this video is from the demo at Gamescom, and isn’t even close to what will be available upon completion.

Across each gender, with only a few exceptions, the faces, hair, and scars are all the same. The only thing that differentiates, say, a human and a Mirialan is the skintone and tattoos. Cyborgs get some metally bits attached to them but otherwise are identical to humans. And the ones that do look the most different from humans have the fewest options available to customize them. Essentially, there’s nothing to set your character apart from another. The most annoying thing about this is that there are clearly models available of less humanoid races in the game – some of the NPCs I came across included Togrutas, Rodians, Nautolans, Kel Dors, Cathars…they’re just not available for play.

Whereas, in GW2…each race looks drastically different. They each have very, very different options for customization. And it will be very easy to create a character that stands apart from others.

Make the gameplay interesting.

TOR’s gameplay is okay. It’s not bad. It’s not great, though, either. It’s just…very generic. Essentially, it plays exactly like WoW. There’s stuff everywhere for you to shoot at/hit with a lightsaber. Hit enough things, you go up a level.

…okay, so every game ever basically plays that way. The problem with TOR is that the gameplay essentially does not ever change from that. Not only that, but you can go through everything just mashing the number 1 on your keyboard. Sure, there are other skills, but your most basic one, the first you learn, is strong enough to see you through pretty much anything.

Enemy groups you also fight are nothing to write home about. Nearly every group is made up of three enemies, at a level where chances are likely you won’t have to break a sweat to kill them, and they never do anything special. They just shoot at or hit you until you kill them.

The leveling mechanic is also quite dull – you level up, you go see your trainer to buy a new skill. You never have any options as to what you want to get, though. You’re just limited to one or two skills. Your class dictates your playstyle 100%, and the only time you get any real choice over this is when you hit level 10 and go to choose your advanced class. Then, you’ve got a few skill trees you can put points into. Choose wisely, though, as you cannot ever change your advanced class once chosen, and while you can re-spec your skill trees, doing so isn’t free and gets increasingly expensive.

In Guild Wars, enemy groups tend to have at least some variety. They can vary in size – anywhere from 1 to about 8 or 9, vary in profession, even vary in species. Some can be very easy, some can be very hard. Sure, there are a lot of people who claim over and over that GW is easy…but it’s really only easy when you’ve been playing for a long time and know how to perfectly synergize a party build and take advantage of AI limitations. For most people, that’s not the case. Some of it can indeed be quite difficult. And while, sure, you can stick with the same build throughout…not even the vaunted Necro/Mesmer/Ritualist setup will work at peak efficiency everywhere.

Leveling is also different, as we all know. It doesn’t really matter, for starters, and you hit max level fairly quickly. It gains you attribute and skill points, and you can spec your attributes any way you want and spend those skill points on any skills you’ve unlocked thus far. Changing your attributes and skill bar is easy and can be done at any time while you’re in a town or outpost; changing your secondary profession is equally easy past a certain point. Experimentation is encouraged and each person will wind up developing their own playstyle.

Guild Wars 2 will be even more dynamic in this; the level cap is higher, but they’ve stated that when you’re at level 75 it won’t be any harder to gain a level than it was at level 5; it’s still not terribly important. You learn weapon skills by using a weapon a few times. And you can change your skills on the fly just by swapping to another weapon set – and in fact this will be a very important part of playing the game.

Also, as far as the story goes, make it actually relevant to the gameplay. Fetch quests and “go kill x of y” are not fun. There’s the occasional fetch quest in GW, but for the most part, that sort of questing is absent from GW, because it’s pointless. The instancing in the first game made it so. TOR’s quests, though, all tend to boil down to just that.

Make it feel like it matters that there are other people around.

For all that TOR is an open world and there are other people running around everywhere, it doesn’t really feel like they actually matter. NPCs in the game will make comments like “Oh, it’s good to see another Padawan!” to you, despite the fact that there are…dozens of other Padawans running around, and oftentimes other players are just going to wind up being an annoyance or a hindrance to you, as you wait for something to respawn that someone else get to before you did. You can group up, but there’s really no point in doing so except for Flashpoints, which essentially require you to group, and nothing in the world reacts to others being around.

Guild Wars 2 is not going to work that way. The dynamic quest system makes it so that the difficulty of a quest will change, depending on how many people are actively participating in the area. While there will be things like crafting and the like, you won’t have to camp out around a node waiting for it to regenerate for you to use; you can use it and it will still be readily available for the next person to come along. And no need to worry about someone coming along and ganking your kill (and loot!) – anyone that participates in a fight will get goodies, depending on how much they had participated.

Make it seem like your actions actually mean something.

TOR is a heavily instanced game; as each profession has it’s own storyline, this makes sense. But there is also no phasing to the game – everything else is 100% persistent. This means that what you do has no actual effect on the world. Kill as many fleshreavers as you want – it won’t ever make a difference. They’ll still keep coming.

Guild Wars allows you some effect on your world – as it’s all instanced, things can be tailored to you. Completing quests can make it so that certain enemies do not ever spawn in an area again; active quests can make it so certain NPCs appear in an area while you’re completing that quest. GW2 will go even further with that, with the dynamic quest system. Stuff will happen and depending on how successful people are in responding, things will change and a new line of quests will spawn. Of course, these won’t necessarily be permanent changes, as that would be unfair on anyone who missed out (or if a particular quest was won, and people wanted to try the quest line spawned by losing that first one), but the effects of your actions will be seen pretty clearly.

If you’re going to claim something, try and live up to it.

TOR and GW2 are both games that have made the claim of being fully voiced. But…just how well do they live up to these claims?

TOR is, indeed, fully voiced. What little that is voiced, anyway. Some random NPCs you go up to might have a line of greeting for you (much like the NPCs in Eye of the North). Most will just completely and totally ignore you. The only thing that’s really voiced are cutscenes. And, well, there are a lot of them. Every single quest you try and pick up or turn in means you have to go through a minute long (at least!) cutscene. Double that with loading times…and yeah, it gets tiresome.

On the flipside, and this is where GW2 is really going to shine, I think, in TOR? I noticed almost no background chatter. During the smuggler starting quests I noticed some guys sitting outside of the spaceport that’d start (belatedly) chatting as you’d run by, but that’s it. Despite the fact that the world is actually quite populated (people everywhere, and not just players!), it all felt very sterile. Certainly not alive at all. Compare that to GW2 videos that’ve been shown so far of running around cities and constantly hearing background talking and noise…there’s no doubt which game feels more alive.

There’s probably more I could write about here. I barely touched the story aspect of the games, being as I didn’t really get far in the stories in TOR (the sidequests rather overwhelmed the main plot I found, anyway) and we don’t know too much about the plot in GW2 yet. And TOR did do some things well – while I dislike the standard “morality wheel” for your dialogue choices and a lot of the light/dark choices were very arbitrary and made no sense, they did have some great characterization available (several responses or conversations made me laugh out loud).

But as a whole…it felt too much like things I’ve played before, and disliked. The MMO genre is stagnating, has been rather stagnant for quite some time. I believe that initially BioWare had intended to try and do something different with TOR, and while I don’t like them as a developer anyway, I do not believe they’re 100% responsible for the resulting genericness of the game; I feel that EA had a pretty big hand in that.

At the same time, though, I just can’t help it. I look at what TOR could have been, the potential it had, and can’t help but be disappointed that it fell so short and they went for being just another clone. Combined with excitement over the new things that GW2 is aiming to do…and I think it’s pretty clear which game is doing the right things, and that more developers should be paying attention to and learning from.

It’s (almost) that time of the year!

Go, candyman, go!

The past few years on Guild Wars Guru, those of us that frequent the Nolani Academy subforum have participated in a community-held art workshop for both the Halloween and Wintersday art contests. The purpose of the workshop is not necessarily to try and win a prize in the official contest, though workshop participants are always well-represented amongst the winners; last year for the Halloween contest something like 9 of the 23 winners were workshop participants. Rather, the main point is to create a piece of art that the artist is happy with, to obtain critique, and to try and learn something new and expand on your artistic skills.

And, obviously, the art is all both Guild Wars and Halloween-related, which lends to some awesome creativity in what people come up with!

I participated in both workshops and art contests in 2010 (and was one of the contest winners for Wintersday), so I can attest to how much fun it can be to participate, and how incredibly helpful the critique that’s given out can be. It’s really a great time, with people of all skill levels participating (and winning prizes). We usually hold a party in-game afterwards where we all just hang out in an outpost, give out prizes, mess around, and have fun.

This year I’m stepping up my participation; I will be hosting this year’s Halloween Workshop on Guru. The workshop itself isn’t open yet, but the thread is up, I’ve set aside a bunch of my goodies for prizes (I just need to divvy up what I’ve got between the categories), and I’m looking for judges and prize donations. And even though entries aren’t being accepted yet, discussion and brainstorming in the thread is more than welcome! If you’re interested in participating, want to help judge, have stuff you’d like to donate for prizes…just post in the thread or shoot me a message on Guru.

And of course the most important part – have fun!