Monday, January 30, 2017

End of January

I love January, it's a month that often leaves me with a feeling of renewal. It's been a great month, mostly in real life as I've been very busy with it, but also in game. As it comes to an end, I'm writing this personal post about what I've been doing on GW2. My older blog entries all used to be personal logs about what I had accomplished during the past two or three days in games. However, ever since I've discovered that writing about general gaming topics gets me plenty of views I've been tempted into writing that content instead and it's taken me away from recording my own progress. I'd like to get back to the old ways.

First things first. As of today, these are my characters:

In order, the first one is Ragnar Quagganborn, my Norn RP character who was born with the soul of an ancient Quaggan and is destined to defeat Jormag and absorb its soul. He's a Ranger and is currently level 69, wearing clothes from random loot and quests. Then there's Master Zeth, my lowest level character, a level 17 thief which I'll surely get back to when I'm done leveling the other characters. The next one is Ysiutaru, a level 64 elementalist I'm currently playing both as a RP and PvP character. Moving on, there's my main Armathyx, an engineer and by far the character I've played the most. Finally the human in heavy armor is Octavius Artoria, the character I boosted to level 80 with the HoT expansion, which I've never really played and have been considering remaking into a Charr instead so that I have all races.

This is my bank as of today, and as I was taking the screenshot I must have either realized how poor I am or how meaningless banks are in this game. In Runescape whenever you'd take a picture of your bank, not only would you have to open paint several times to line up all the screenshots it took to capture it, but you'd get a really decent resume of your character, as you'd store all your items and wealth in it, including the various recurring quest items and event rewards. In GW2 most items are trash, and "wealth" comes in various forms such as karma, achievement points, titles and what not, so it takes away the charm of a bank screenshot.

So this month I began crafting my medium ascended armor, thinking I had enough materials in storage to make it all in one go. Turns out it required 36 elonian leather squares rather than the 18 this guide recommended, so I got stuck after making the chest, legs and helmet and I've been too lazy to farm the rest of the materials since then.

I also joined an RP guild on my Sylvari, called Niamh's Right Hand. Fun times. I have the impression that some people frown upon RP as "too nerdy", but being a casual gamer myself I can't understand where this comes from. I've been guild hopping for a while now and this is the first guild since Moonlight Howl that I've actually come to enjoy being part of.
Apparently these training events happen every Monday, so I'm guessing I'll have something else to talk about in just a few hours.

The Quagganborn's nearly level 80, and that's a good thing because he can actually share the new ascended medium armor with Armathyx, and eventually Master Zeth as well, despite all three of them having a massive difference in body size. Ascended armor seems like it can really stretch a lot.

My goal at the moment is to get all my characters to level 80 and have them geared. Exotic armor will be enough for those that don't wear medium armor. It's enough for me to have three characters which can run fractals. I hope to improve my skills at PvP as well, might blog about that next.

I'm wondering what type of gear I should wear on a dual dagger elementalist in PvE?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Item Identity

If you've heard of either Excalibur, the Cloak of Invisibility, the Genie Lamp or Aegis, then you might already know what this topic is going to be about. Fantasy, among other genres, is ripe with iconic magical tools or weapons; items which are often unique in nature and difficult to obtain.

Such items are often part of video games. They help create identity not only to the characters that wield them, but to the lore of the world they exist in itself. It's easy to find examples: the Ocarina of Time, the Portal Gun (ASHPD), Soul Calibur and even "mundane" items like the Pip-Boy in Fallout. 

These items are naturally essential in a RPG setting. TES games, among other series, have an innumerable amount of them. I loved Auriel's Bow in Skyrim and the Ectophial in Runescape; how many times did that bottle of ectoplasm save my life?

Yet when I play Guild Wars 2, I feel like these items are lacking. Sure, there are many legendary items with their own design and lore, but aesthetics alone aren't enough to make it into a list like IGN's Top 100 video game weapons. When I think about unique items in GW2, two of them come to mind: the Watchwork Pickaxe, and Mawdrey.

I own both items, and they are definitely my favorite in game, because they offer more than just better stats or different aesthetics: they have their own special function. The Watchtwork Pickaxe is different from standard and unbreakable pickaxes in how it has a one in three chance of dropping Watchwork Sprockets everytime you mine ores with it. If you have enough gems in game and wish to spend them wisely, I strongly recommend you get this pickaxe. As for Mawdrey (more precisely its complementary item, Mawdrey II), it has the unique ability to consume Bloodstone Dust in exchange for random loot.

You could argue that Legendary weapons in Guild Wars 2 are also unique items because they're difficult to obtain, and because you can change their stats whenever you want. But this stat-changing ability is something they all have in common, it's not unique to either one of them; and with that out of the way, they're really just improved versions of ascended weapons with fancy designs. They don't have a special attack, or a particular use against a distinct type of enemy, or a special utility outside of combat.

Image by Noxxic from GamingPrecision
I'm not sure how it is in other recent MMORPGs, as I rarely play them for long enough to know about these things in detail; perhaps you could let me know in the comments below. But I think the reason why unique items in GW2 are being kept to a minimum is because of the community being irrationally afraid of them becoming too imbalanced or unfair to others. This discussion about the Watchwork Pickaxe brings that irrationality to evidence.

Contrarily to what people thought back then, the Watchwork Pickaxe didn't make anyone lose ores, or drive players into a mass exodus due to a feeling of unfairness, or make the game Pay-To-Win. I have the impression that there's this desire in the community for everyone to be equal, to have equal chances, absurdly akin to some sort of communism. But let's face it: no matter what items the game has to offer, there are going to be those who get rich and those who don't. The real concern here should be that there's a cash shop in game and that you can buy gold from it.

With all of that aside, what are you favorite items in video games?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Journey Restored

All this talk about what is and isn't a real quest has brought back some good old memories. I've decided to restore what little I could find of my old blog, and while searching I've found this notebook of my quests on Runescape. I took these notes to remember what NPCs said, and to figure out how to solve the quests on paper. Sadly, I can't find my Mourning's End Part II hand drawn map.

I wonder what the walrus was?
I think that's the Hunt for Surok quest. You can also see my Construction list on the right side.
This is probably about levelling Runecrafting.
The skill requirements for God knows what quest.
This was to solve a puzzle in one of those Master desert quests, I have no idea how it worked.
Figuring out the culprit in King's Ransom
While Guthix Sleeps.
I used to own a blog, mostly about Runescape, which I used from 2009 to 2011. It was deleted and the reason for that is a story for another day, but luckily I had roughly a third of it printed out before that happened. Blogger has a convenient tool that allows us to change the date of a blog post and archive it where it belongs.

I have scanned half of the pages so far and I'll have to remake every blog post as it was. It's pretty tedious but it's cool to have it back. 

Blogging is a great way of recording good memories isn't it? It's one of the reasons I decided to begin writing down my adventures back then.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The recipe for a great MMORPG

It's time for a rant about these new games, and also for my expectations of 2017.

I've played a small amount of MMORPGs in my life. I've downloaded and tested many of them, but those that have truly caught my attention are extremely rare. They're not even the most popular ones; while most people out there will tell you they come from World of Warcraft, Star Wars the Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online - games which I have also tested - I have mostly played Runescape, Silkroad Online and Guild Wars 2. I keep getting disappointed time and time again by these new games that are presented to us as the real deal, get postponed into oblivion by their developers, and then fail to impress anyone when they finally come out.

Here's Tera... or Black Desert... or was it Archeage? Can you tell the difference? Seems like it's all the same shit, man.

 Every year there's a new batch of them being announced for release within the next twelve months. I find it ridiculous to massively announce a game that is barely out of its diapers, but many of these game developers seem to think otherwise. They'll tell you that their pre-Alpha MMORPG will be released this year, and then keep you waiting until everyone loses interest and moves on. Whatever economical sense that makes, I really don't know, I study biochemistry, not economics. For 2017, I share the same feeling many other bloggers out there do : I no longer feel hyped for any of the upcoming online games, although some of them might just be a light in the dark.

It's difficult to pinpoint what makes a great MMORPG, but easier to understand what makes a bad one. I've been brainstorming this idea for a few months and I think the culprits are a lack of difficulty and freedom, which both lead to a lack of personal identity in game. This difficulty comes in several aspects in earlier games : having to grind for the things you want, having to struggle to defeat a boss, having to take huge risks when exploring dangerous areas, having to be careful of other players scamming or griefing you, having to train to master your class, and above everything, having to chose your own path. 

Here I was exploring new places in Runescape back in 2011, still stuck in red dhide armor... great times.
 I love Guild Wars 2 for many reasons, but I see in it this lack of difficulty which is present in almost all MMORPGs of its generation. The game only has two ways of getting difficult : one, it throws an impossible amount of monsters at you, and two, it throws a really tough boss at you. Ascended gear is difficult to obtain, but not at all necessary. It takes little effort to level a character : I've seen players with over 40 different characters on their account; how can you possibly have a sense of identity (as a Warrior, a Guardian, a Ranger...) when you're regularly playing more than five different characters at once? The penalty for dying is negligible, quests are completely devoid of any actual questing (as I discussed here), and overprotection is such that you can't even trade with other players directly.

Even with all that said, GW2 still has something the majority of new MMORPGs don't : freedom. The RPGs I have truly enjoyed, and I say "RPGs" to encompass offline games like The Elder Scrolls series, all have one thing in common :  they drop you in a vast open world and let you do whatever you want, become whoever you want, go wherever you want.
The reason I quit most MMOs within a few minutes of playing is because they just won't let me play my characters the way I want and do things in whatever order I feel like - they don't let me role play, yet it's what the genre is about. I'm fine with there being a tutorial, but if the tutorial is lasting more than thirty minutes to complete and if it's followed immediately by an unavoidable quest, that's enough to make me uninstall the game. Game developers seem to only care about aesthetics, fancy animations, and linear storylines nowadays, and forget about what makes a game truly stand out. As soon as I set foot in game I'm forced into a cringe-worthy storyline I have no reason to care about. I can't even chose to go do something else, because the entire game is designed to be linear and if I'm not doing their retarded storyline and going from map to map in the order they want, then I'm missing out on huge chunks of content or not progressing at all.

I might have played this "sandbox" MMO Black Desert if it didn't have this fucking spirit pestering me all the time to do its "quests". Just kidding, the entire game was crap.
The old Runescape, and its predecessor Tibia, got many things right in this regard. It was tedious, challenging, risky, and it knew how quests were supposed to work. They were optional, rewarding, very difficult (as in, they were real brain teasers and not just "kill x" "gather x" tasks) and non-linear. The game was sadly ruined by its developers, and the old school version is no longer appealing to me due to having received unwanted updates like the Grand Exchange. For this reason, I've been waiting for the next Runescape for years, but it seems like it's just never going to happen.

But there might be some hope left this year. Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen comes to mind, although it's being announced way too early and most likely won't come out before 2018. I already see a few flaws in it, like the ridiculous prices they ask from backers - including a subscription fee from forums alone! - and the progeny system, but their survival system is very interesting. 
But above anything, there's Chronicles of Elyria, which promises an amazingly dynamic, player run world, focusing hugely on "do it yourself" gameplay and much less on aesthetics. And I don't mean bullshit like Archeage; this is supposed to be your down to earth, survial modded Skyrim gone online. There's so many concepts I like about this game that it would be difficult to make a list in this already long blog post. I'd instead encourage you to check out their website and see it for yourselves. However, I also doubt it will be coming out anytime soon.

Oh, about that recipe for a great MMORPG, these are the things I personally enjoy finding:
  • Give players the freedom to chose what they'd like to do in game, right from the beginning,
  • Make quests optional, locational, but difficult (brain teasing puzzles, enigmas, plots...) and rewarding, more about you and less about the NPCs,
  • Levelling must require hard work, take a lot of time and feel like a journey where the destination isn't all that important,
  • Characters must be customizable to a degree, but not items (I'll post about items later)
  • Death should be consequential; perhaps not everywhere, but at least in dangerous areas,
  • The economy must be run by players; gold should not be purchasable from the store,
  • Trading should be done between players and not via some server wide auction house,
  • Some items and skills should be situational and have specific uses against specific opponents or areas.
Might have missed some ideas but that's the general concept I like of a MMORPG.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Journey into Maguuma Part II

I haven't been very active lately due to homework, but I got back into writing again this weekend. I have plenty of content to post, so I'll start with the second part of my exploration in Heart of Thorns maps.

Auric Basin is the next of the four Heart of Maguuma maps, and it's by far the best looking. With very few wreckage of the Pact fleet and very luscious vegetation along with an amazing looking temple, it caught my attention as one of the best looking maps in game.

Oh and I've also obtained a new set of armor! The old one's still in bank.

Auric Basin is home to the Exalted, a community of ancient beings who inhabit Tarir, the Forgotten City. They're friendly to Tyrians and help in the fight against Mordremoth during the main quest. Their city looks very impressive, although its height makes it very hazardous and difficult to explore if you're not paying attention.

The map has several minigames, which in lore serve as trials and challenges for the Exalted to chose heroes who can help them fight the Mordrem. They are fun to do and are an easy, risk free way of farming experience.

Some masteries are required to complete the map, such as the second Exalted lore mastery and the final gliding mastery. The latter can be circumvented with the help of a mesmer or a Teleport to Friend item found in Black Lion Chests. It actually took me longer to complete this map than Verdant Brink simply because I had to farm those masteries, but I felt that it was overall easier to navigate.

Some parts of this map reminded me of old school games. The area in the above screenshot, which is part of one of the minigames, reminded me of the pyramid in Super Mario 64 for some reason. The challenge is to climb it all the way up within a time limit.

Auric Basin is one of the best examples of great mapping in Guild Wars 2. It's an explorer's dream come true. Sadly the next map is much more of a pain in the ass!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Non-Human races

GW2 has five playable races. As most beginners, I went human back when I started in 2012. I regret making that decision sometimes, because humans get boring once you learn to appreciate the other races. Armathyx is my main character and remaking her would be a crime, so I do play an alt from time to time just for the sake of variety.

Up until now, I never thought I would play a Norn in Guild Wars 2. I never thought I would enjoy it! But not only has my living cliché Ragnar Quagganborn brought a smile to my face, it seems to get the most reactions out of people as well whenever I speak in chat.

There's no way around it, everyone is guilty of first impressions, and each race has its own strong vibe in this game. The problem with humans is the image players give them as the boring first character everyone goes with, and particularly female human characters, since they're high in demand for how much better the armor looks in general. Another problem is the name itself, "Humans". Really, Anet? Couldn't you come up with something more creative?

Meanwhile, the Norn seem to look friendly by default. I've seen many Charr players have a flamboyant attitude, Sylvari being mysterious, and Asura being either shy or intellectual. I woulnd't say that the choice of an in-game race changes people's attitude, but I don't think it would be crazy to believe it has a small influence on it, depending on how immersed you are in your character. In my case, the name helps a lot as well, as I've seen Skyrim fans laughing at the name or PMing me asking how the Quagganborn's legend went. Here's some cool conversations:

 Sadly I missed out on the best ones, but those were some great times anyway. As for the race itself, its appearance, lore, city and quests, everything is a lot more exciting than I expected. I thought it would be a watered down copy of Skyrim, but it really isn't. Everything about the Norn is absurdly exaggerated, but not to the extent of looking silly. It's just the right dose to make it look fun and still seem credible in the world of Tyria.

Even chicken become much larger (and manlier) when you pick them up! 

In other news, I decided to open up this blog to other games I also play, and all that means is I'll be changing the header title, because it already is about various games. It started out on Skyrim, and although I've only been on GW2 recently, I doubt I'll stay on it forever.

There's an MMO coming out soon called Project: Gorgon. I wonder if it's worth checking out...