Monday, August 26, 2013

Hanging Out With the Beautiful People

The free weekend for Guild Wars 2 ended, and my Thief* made it to Level 11.

Honestly, there's a lot to like in GW2.  The pay once, play forever idea is a great one.  The players move and attack and interact with the game world much like a standard MMO.**  Also, the graphics engine didn't make my computer grumble, like SWTOR has the occasional tendency to do.

And have I mentioned that this Old School RPGer loves that there's a class called a THIEF?  Takes me back to my AD&D (1st edition) days, it does.

And, thank goodness, the character options don't include those absolutely nutty mushroom heads and paeans to Super Mario that Aion has.

That said, the game is a lot closer to Aion and other Asian RPGs than American/European RPGs than you'd think.

For starters, there's the issue with NPC clothing.

While issues with PC gear --and particularly female PC gear-- have been around for ages, typically in the Western RPG you'd find NPCs wearing appropriate clothing for the task at hand:  armor for guards, work clothes for grunts, dresses and poofy shirts for nobility, etc.  Yes, Alexstrasza and Ysera (and Sylvannas) may wear bikinis, but they've got recognizably Frazetta style armor on.

But GW2 and Aion both have issues where you find female NPCs wearing wildly inappropriate clothing for their work.

So this is appropriate dress for farming?  Who knew?

Now maybe it's just me, but I don't see a lot of people digging in their garden while wearing dresses like that. Hell, even a bikini would be more work appropriate than a short dress like this one, because you can at least work without worrying about getting your dress dirty.  But that's the thing: you see clothing like this on Human farmers at the very beginning of the game.

And pigtails.  These dresses always are worn by women in pigtails.

Just in case you didn't think the visual cues for some of the women were taken from JRPGs, here's the pic when you select a female Necromancer:

Right after raising some zombies,
I'm heading straight to the Dance!

Ironically enough, you can find plenty of NPC women out and about wearing practical clothing --pants, full armor, etc.-- but the "short dress" NPCs (and PCs) were enough to throw you completely out of immersion from time to time.

That leads into another distinction between GW2 and WoW/SWTOR/AoC/LOTRO/etc.:  the toons themselves.

Have you stopped to watch some of the NPCs around a town or village?  I mean not just look at them, but watch their behavior.  Normally, I don't think much of the NPCs in the background --they're the background, right?-- but when I saw a female guard stick her toe in the dirt and twist her leg as if she were talking to a crush, that kind of threw me for a loop.  She was standing at attention in Shaemoor, and then she did that, so it's part of the NPC's standard movement routine.  While it wasn't like the Night Elf's breast bounce, it was so unlike what a guard's behavior --while on the job-- ought to be that it left me scratching my head.

Finally, I noticed that for all toons --NPC and PC-- everybody is perfect.  Smooth, flawless skin, perfect complexion, unchanging and unflappable facial expressions, and immaculate clothing were the hallmarks of all toons.  I thought of the toons as "being on botox for the entire body", and I'd probably not be too far off. The toon graphics were such that even the NPCs stood out as being a little more perfect than the background graphics, so when I passed by a wounded Seraph*** it looked more like he was lying on the ground having a picnic lunch instead of looking, well, hurt.


You'd think I'd not be so enamored of GW2 after all that, but I did like it.  I do like the change from the traditional "kill ten rats" questline.  I also like what I've seen of the main questline so far, and moreover, I really enjoy how they went about customizing the main questline.

When you create your character, after the typical graphical adjustments (which includes a nice height slider) you are then asked a series of questions.  These questions include personal motivations, including things like a regret you have.  The answers to these questions provide the particular path your character will follow in their main/personal storyline.

While to the average player this seems like a need customization option, I saw it in a somewhat different light: as an attempt to bring aspects of pencil-and-paper RPGs into a computer RPG format.

Games that follow the FATE system, such as FATE Core, FATE Accelerated Edition, the Dresden Files RPG****, and Spirit of the Century RPG, have a similar mechanic.  To take the simplest of the bunch, FATE Accelerated (or FAE for short), you start of a character by creating a "high concept" and a "trouble":  two items that you write down to describe some of the motivation your character has.  High concept is pretty straightforward, as it can be anything from "Captain of the last outpost on the edge of the Great Wasteland" to "Mechanical genius who wants to be a superspy".  It's the "trouble" aspect that is what might throw people at first, because it's something that causes issues for your character, such as the following:  "The Necromancer won't leave me alone", "Ooo, will you look at THAT!", or "I will not be outdone by those punks at XXY Corporation!"

These aspects are used to help drive the RPG's story forward by enabling the GM and the player to use them for both campaign hooks and to add flavor to the campaign itself.  For example, a character with "Ooo, will you look at THAT!" as a trouble has issues with being distracted at inopportune times.  Like, say, when your character is trying to find a bomb hidden in a lab.  A GM can use such an aspect to make things a bit more difficult for a character, but also allow the character to catch little details that other, more focused characters might miss.

When I saw in the Human creation the question "What is your greatest regret?" my first thought was "Hey, they took the Trouble aspect and stuck it in an MMO!"  And, surprise surprise, GW2 actually uses this aspect in the main questline, too.  It's a great idea that somebody finally added into an MMO.


One other item of note that I absolutely wanted to point out was that there was no gen chat spam whatsoever in game.  I see that on SWTOR, but WoW, Age of Conan, and especially Aion have gold spammers in abundance.  Aion is so bad that I felt the need to have to actually turn Gen Chat off, and to be honest contributed to my decision to abandon the game.

But I do have to give kudos to ArenaNet for their job at keeping GW2 spam free.


Now, for the big question:  will I play GW2 again?

Yes, but not immediately.  I've got other things to take care of --outside of gaming-- before I can pick up yet another MMO.

I do like what I see overall.  The story is good and not too cheesy, although Scarlet Briar has the overall feel of a Supervillan from a Superhero comic, but in general there's enough for me to like --and ignore the immersion issues-- for me to want to continue playing.  I don't think I'll proceed at the same pace as I did this past weekend, since I had a limited amount of time to take the game for a test drive, but I can see it filling in some time between other MMOs I play.


If you're curious about FATE but don't want to plunk down any money on it at first, you can visit the publisher of FATE Core and FAE --Evil Hat Productions-- and download the electronic versions of both FATE Core and FAE on a pay what you like basis.  (I helped fund the Kickstarter for FATE Core, so that's how I got my print copies.)  Even if you're an avid roleplayer and don't end up playing FATE, it makes for very good reading.

*So, I created a toon that mimicked my current WoW toon, so I could have a more direct comparison.  Plus, I'm used to playing Thieves these days, and I didn't want to get wrapped up in the whole "YR playin it wrong!" crap that I'd get if I started out as a Guardian like my first impulse.

**Unlike, say, Aion, where the mouse buttons are reversed.  Or Neverwinter, where you use the AWSD keys to move around and the mouse to point and attack.

***I found it interesting that the Seraphs --and even the Ascended in Aion-- have those wings on them that are hallmarks of some JRPGs.  Considering that the Seraphs are an obvious derivation from the Seraphim of Judaic and Christian tradition, I'm still pondering how the angelic imagery managed to sneak into JRPGs (and JRPG inspired RPGs) so much.

****Yes, an RPG based on Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books.  The game allows you to "Dresdenize" your local community, so that you've got a game world that you can work with without having to necessarily play in the world of Harry Dresden's Chicago.  Of course, if you really wanted to play in Harry Dresden's hometown, you can by picking up the companion volume to the RPG.

EtA: Had to change the formal dress from a URL.


  1. Yep, part of the beauty of GW2 is the hybrid graphics style between western and Asian MMOs. that does have it's bad sides but overall it adds much to its colorful, artsy aesthetic. I've managed to create 3 highlevel sets for my Elem now that look very seriously badass.
    it's funny too, how asian games especially seem to be enamored with wings; GW2 keeps introducing more and more winged backpacks atm. That said, NCSoft has AION on board and the shops are incredibly similar, anyway. pretty bad for the most part, he he...

    Sad part about the character questionnaire and alignment is that they don't really matter much in the greater scheme of things. I have stopped paying attention to this completely as it does not seem to impact in noticeable ways. or maybe it's just me who didn't notice. ;)

    There's tons to love in GW2 especially for the more casual (non-endgame obsessed) and friends of alting. the world is packed with funny details, special NPC dialogues and secret passages etc. I'm glad you gave it a go!

    1. I can see that the vistas are to GW2 what the datacrons are to SWTOR: something to figure out how to get to.

      GW2's emphasis on exploration and being out in the field will serve it well in the long term, since WoW has neglected that portion of the game so badly that even Cross Realm Zones didn't work well. (At least in my experience it didn't; I could cruise through Ashenvale and never see another soul.)

      The graphics style is definitely a hybrid: the toons themselves aren't anime or JRPG, but the outfits often are. The smooth flawless complexion is another hallmark of JRPGs. I'd look at an NPC close up and say "Well, it doesn't look bad at all," but it's just that every single NPC looks, well, perfect. I felt like I was at some Hollywood party or something.

  2. So I read this and thought, hey, I should check it out again. It's been a while. I found my Necromancer wearing that dress! Except it's red. I found I didn't have any idea how to play her anymore so started a Charr Necromancer, now she's wearing sensible gear!

    1. At least it's buy once, play forever. Right?

      Yeah, I captured that pic from the character creation after I found the farmers running around in those outfits. In a bizarre sort of way, I approve of Sylvanas' clothing/armor because, well, it's recognizably armor. Yeah, that bikini bottom sneaking in there is a bit "Yeah, right", but in general you know she means business wearing that gear.

      But can you imagine someone coming up to you and saying "I'm a Necromancer!" in that get up? My reaction would be "Go back and stop playing kiddie games first, and then we'll talk."

  3. I'd recommend going with your impulse and trying out the different classes if/when you do pick the game up.

    One common piece of advice GW2 players have for those transitioning from WoW is not to assume that the classes are identical. For example, an elementalist does not necessarily have to stay at range and do damage like a WoW mage, one of the stronger builds they have is to be double-dagger melee, which makes the same class play -very- different.

    You'll find later that while the GW2 thief can play the melee dps/stealth/backstab game well, the emphasis on mobility to mitigate damage becomes very strong. I had a great deal of trouble getting used to it and not getting immediately killed at first.

    Nice to hear your first thoughts on it, especially regarding the lack of gold spam in general chat. Highlights the reason for the draconian chat suppression (that does ends up suppressing legitimate players who need to chat a lot, eg. commanders in WvW) and makes it feel worth it. I hate gold spam just as much.

    1. If anything, the Thief reminds me most of the Scoundrel from SWTOR, where you have to get in close to use Backblast and move around to avoid damage. I thought of playing an Elementalist and a Guardian, but old habits of the Trinity die hard. When I see Guardian I immediately think Tank, courtesy of Age of Conan.

      One thing that I have noticed, much to my chagrin, is that an enemy 2 levels higher than you is much much tougher to take out than most other MMOs. It's about at Age of Conan type of difficulty, really, as I died repeatedly on those L10 Dire Boars when I was L8 and then L9 without making much of a dent at all. I'm not sure whether it's a function of the Thief or the game itself pushing me into grouping up, but it is much less forgiving than a lot of other MMOs.