GW2: This time for sure?

My experiment with TSWL has come to a shuddering halt. While the stories and quests were on the whole quite strong, the relentless dark and gloomy environment in Kingsmouth eventually got to me (especially as it seemed that would be default atmosphere for the entire game).

The combat being so lightweight bugged me, as did all the extra hammer blows I’d throw for no good reason after a mob was downed. I tried Polaris with my friend, which was kind of fun but also weird. Being used to Warcraft dungeons, an empty instance with only a few mobs felt a bit half baked. We got stuck on one boss fight that was quite fun, but after zoning out I didn’t feel compelled to gear up and go back.

Different strokes for different folks though: that same friend is completely addicted and absorbed, the world building being right up his alley. It’s also his first MMO, so he’s probably gone for good – the first one gets hooks in deep.

Next I toyed with Warcraft again, going as far as making a solo guild on my old realm of Nagrand and reuniting all my higher level toons (all still level 100). This involved a few realm transfers, name changes, inventory shuffling, and bank reorganisation.

After all of which I couldn’t get motivated enough to head to Dalaran and start questing. I know better now than to question why Warcraft has this effect, so I logged off and searched for the next thing.

Luckily, the MMO air has been full of excitement about the impending GW2 expansion, Path of Fire. And GW2 has always been a game I’ve wanted to sink into, but never succeeded in getting past level ~10. A new expansion, hype, enthusiasm: if not now, when?

So I patched, researched professions, and decided to give a Guardian a go. First attempt was as a Charr, and much as I like the non human races in MMOs, their movement and hunched over stature just doesn’t work for me. Especially given how glorious some of the late armour models are, I feared the Charr would be a bit like the Tauren where the models don’t quite make the most of the epic design.

Next I tried an Asura, with similar problems, though this time it was more to do with their mechanical infatuation. I’ve always disliked the incursion of machinery and industry into a fantasy world – the Goblin race in Warcraft being a prime example. Their environmental destruction with smoke bellowing engines is hard to forgive, and the introduction of motorised vehicles is an abomination.

So, as usual in GW2, I fell back on the Norn. Don’t like the Elves, and humans are, well, human. So are the Norn I guess, but at least there’s something slightly different about them.

I tried a Guardian in the starter area, but was quickly put off by the fact that the 2nd and 3rd weapon skills aren’t weapons skills at all, but rather area-of-effect protective spells. It’s a bit dull having only one weapon animation and waiting while you place two zoned effects. I’d previously enjoyed the Warrior’s gung ho attitude, but also felt a bit like they didn’t offer anything special.

So I settled on a Ranger. My Warcraft main is/was a Hunter, so I’m comfortable with the style, and was quickly sold on the Rapid Fire skill – great animation and sound, and much more satisfying than a circle on the ground. Plus the option of a pet makes solo exploring more companionable.

One way to hide the unavoidable lipstick

(Of course as soon as I saw my first Charr and Asura I questioned my choice. Same when seeing the Warriors charging in with their insanely huge swords, or Guardians with that great armour and buffing everyone with glee).

I’ve finished up Wayfarer Hills, levelling to 16 on the way. One odd thing I’ve found is you rarely get gear upgrades. I was rocking my starter bow for a long time, and even now half my gear is white quality and ~10 levels lower than I am. I’ve purchased a few pieces from Karma vendors, but suspect that I’ll need to start crafting to make sure I’m staying up to speed. It was taking quite a while for on-level mobs to drop, which was strange after the OP combat of TSWL and Warcraft.

I can’t join in the big debate about difficulty quite yet, as it seems the starter zone is as non-threatening as possible. The only fight that gave pause was an Elite boss that game at the end of a zone. The dynamic quest text suggested this was a group fight, and so it turned out to be. Two of us were attempting it, but it seemed we needed at least a couple more. The NPCs with us kept going down, and there was a new shield health bar on the boss that seemed to need some kind of interrupt to reduce. I found Jeromai’s description of trying to ‘solve’ mechanics in the PoF demo fascinating, but trying to work it out on the fly I couldn’t see any skill I had that might help. We eventually had to abandon when after 20 minutes or so the mob wiped everyone but me, and promptly healed up to full again. Still, the fight didn’t seem unbalanced, more just a little over our heads (I came back later and a group of four managed to take it down with few problems).

I think my bear would look good in that Charr armour

It was also interesting to find that despite GW2’s reputation of ‘play how you want’, I felt more or less led along a fairly predictable path. Follow the Hearts, seek out the Viewpoints and Points of Interest, find the Hero Challenges and Waypoints. It didn’t feel that different to a traditional quest hub style of game. Maybe that changes after the starter zones?

I also found it impossible to resist trying to get 100% zone completion. I read Bhagpuss’s warning that completionist gameplayers may suffer in GW2, but I found that collecting all the exploration goals was a good way of enjoying the zone. It really is a beautiful game to behold, and I was amazed by some of the underground architecture in particular, places I suspect 90% of the player base never ventures as they are slightly off the beaten track. So too the heights, though the Vista seeking means they are probably more commonly enjoyed.

Next up seems to be starting the Living Story, which people seem to rate pretty lowly. But who can resist a sparkling green map marker for long? Certainly not a (semi) completionist like me.

Secret World Legends: Massively single player

Having read a lot about The Secret World, I managed to miss out playing it completely by adding it to my Steam queue about 1 day before it was withdrawn for the rebirth as Legends.

So I’ve come to the ‘new’ game completely blind, and untainted by expectation (other than the much lauded storyline) or experience. Which helps a lot when it comes to enjoying it without having to rue/farewell the good/bad old days.

I’ve levelled up to 10, and the most striking thing about it so far is how it plays like a single player game. While there have been other players, occasionally, for the most part it feels like a solo RPG. Mysteries, quests, power-ups, and a lot of (excellent) NPC dialogue. But not a lot of interaction with other players, nor seemingly any compelling reason to group up.

Admittedly that feeling of solo play started to change in Kingsmouth, but mainly due to world chat suddenly exploding into action. There’s too much chat to really pay attention, especially because the bulk of it is comparison talk – what’s better, what’s worse – but at least it proved there are other players out there. It does sound like group content is approaching – teams for ‘Polaris’ keep being advertised, so that’s promising.

And I think at level 10 something flashed past on the screen about PVP? The UI leaves something to be desired – often I was being awarded something or other but couldn’t see it behind the quest completion or inventory UI. I also have no clue what I’m doing with skill upgrades or talent builds – so far I’ve ignored them and it hasn’t mattered at all.

The combat is also pretty average, as advertised. I chose to roll Demolisher, liking the idea of a hammer-smashing sword-slashing tank, but there is zero ‘feel’ to the melee combat. It has no weight whatsoever, the hits don’t connect with any heft, and it seems that just mashing right and left mouse will do the job. Even with the world bosses, the only minor challenge has been to dodge the action telegraphs. The airiness, more than the clumsiness, of the combat is disappointing, even with low expectations.

As for the story, it’s certainly far more involved than Warcraft or GW2, approaching SWtoR in terms of craft and depth. SWtoR still wins hands down for the feeling of heroism, that you matter and your character is shaping epic events, but TSWL is proving to be a refreshing change to the fantasy and sci-fi tropes. Wry humour and well written NPCs, and an omnipresent tone of everything in the world being slightly – but not totally – off kilter.

A friend is also playing, and it’s his first ever MMO. Which is kind of unfortunate as it’s hardly that thus far, but we’re going to team up and see what eventuates. More zombies, I’m guessing.