I missed a few notes in my last post, so let’s back up and talk about what this thing is before we talk about how it works. Also, we need some screen shots. (Because this game is an excellent excuse to put pretty pictures on my website.)
|Yes, this game engages in gleeful and shameless pandering. Fans of ancient Chinese naval vessels rejoice!|
Many people are pointing out to me that Guild Wars is not an MMO, and they’re right, although I’m not sure what we should call it. The game has two parts. One is the PvP area, where you can create a full-on maxed-out character and then go and do whatever the PvP types do. The other half of the game is what concerns me, which is the campaign mode.
In campaign mode, you play through a single-player style story. But, you know, online. The towns are a shared space, where you can see everyone else who happens to be in town. You can think of the towns as being massively multiplayer. But as soon as you leave town you enter your very own copy of the wilderness where you’ll fight monsters and do missions to advance the plot. You don’t have to worry about kill-stealing players or people trying to ninja your loot. You’re alone (although you’ll need to have some NPC henchmen with you if you want to get anywhere) and the only way you’ll see another player is if you join their group and go adventuring together.
|This is a rare case where the pandering goes both ways. Half-dressed females only marginally outnumber half-dressed males. I would pay good money to know the actual male / female breakdown behind these characters.|
This is pretty similar to how Hellgate worked: Shared towns and instanced combat areas. And like Hellgate, you only have to buy the game and don’t have to worry about an ongoing monthly fee to continue playing.
In the Prophesies campaign (which is what I have) the game begins in a nice, happy kingdom, although the opening narration makes it very clear that you shouldn’t get used to it. You spend the first few levels roaming around the charming farmland and villages, killing stuff, learning the interface, and generally getting to know the game. Once you finish this extended tutorial an invasion takes place, and the kingdom goes right to hell. This is all conveyed via some nice in-game cutscenes. The plot then cuts to four years later. The kingdom is a wasteland and you’re working to push back the enemy and restore the place.
|Since our homes are all burned down and our farms are destroyed, our people have nothing to do all day but make fetish outfits and frilly underpants for the ladies.|
I really like this approach to multiplayer. It’s kind of like how the XBox live gamertag makes every game “multiplayer” by giving you a way to show off how you’re doing to other people. It actually gives you a motivation to worry about looking good, since people other than you can actually see your character. You can play co-op with friends, or you can go it alone, but the town is always there if you need to ask questions or trade items.
The game streams content to you as you play, which has drawbacks and advantages. Assuming you bought the game online, it’s nice to not have to download a gargantuan file just to get started. (Although I believe you can if you really want to. Assuming you have cable modem you can probably just kick it off before bed or work and the thing will be waiting for you when you come back.) If you’re in a hurry, you can just get the base file and each time you enter a new area the client will stop and download the required content.
I’ve talked before about how games need several types of rewards, meta-goals, or activities to engage players and propel them forward. This game has the story mode. It has leveling. It has the acquisition of loot. It also has a lightweight crafting system where you take common drops and break them down into components that can be given to NPCs to create new gear.
So far the big draw forward for me has been the desire to see new scenery. The first section of the game was lush and green and fun to explore. The next section is the blasted ruins of the same area (again, I’m talking about the prophesies campaign here – I don’t have either of the other two) and it drags on for far too long. I’ve spent nearly all of my playing time exploring rust-colored canyons and I’m pretty sick of them by now. I haven’t overdosed on earthtones this much since Quake. Rumor has it the next area of the game is the snowy mountains, and I’m looking forward to it not for the story progression but so that I can look at something besides dirt for a few hours.
|I wonder, if they took down all their screenshots of the ladies and replaced them with screenshots of shirtless men, would it increase sales among women? (It would probably really harm sales among young men, but humor me for a second here.) Conventional wisdom says no, but conventional wisdom is usually busy selling cars, beer, athletic shoes, and soft drinks. It’s quite possible things would work differently when we’re talking about a videogame.|
In the PvP areas they have exquisite and varied scenery, which I’m sure is eventually part of the campaign mode as well. (Not the same exact locations, but the same themes and textures.) Beaches. Volcanoes. Quasi-Chinese architecture perched atop ocean cliffs. It’s all beautiful to explore, and I can’t help but wish they would have shortened the wasteland section of the single-player game so we could see this stuff sooner.
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The plot of this game isn't just dumb, it's actively hostile to the player. This game hates you and thinks you are stupid.