Massively Single PlayerPrevious Post
First and Last Impressions
Let’s break Guild Wars (Prophesies) down into its distinct player goals and activities. You know how we do.
What really sets Guild Wars apart from other MMO games (or whatever we’re calling this thing) is the fact that it even has a story at all. Most MMOs don’t have stories, they have settings. They have an initial state or premise that provides conflict, and you participate in that conflict, forever. (Or until you cancel.) But here we have a story that allows player actions to impact the world itself. The world undergoes drastic changes as the player moves forward, and they are a major part of those changes.
The story here is surprising in how conventional it is. This is a world of fantastic magic, but the conflict portrayed isn’t against some extra-dimensional evil from beyond the nether that threatens the very fabric of reality. It’s pretty much just a war. It’s a war that goes quite badly for the good guys at first, but in the mid stages of the game they aren’t telegraphing a coming conflict with one guy who is behind the whole thing. There doesn’t seem to be a rift that needs closing by a lone hero. No gathering up of the seven shards of awesome holy problem-fixing. No necromancer to kill so that his whole army will collapse into dust and then daises and sunshine appear. No chosen one. And strangely enough, no Prophesies. (Yet.) It’s just a war where the enemy got hold of a tactical advantage (a new magic that lets them fireball a city at a distance) and the good guys are forced to take a beating until they can come up with a way to counter it. Perhaps the story will pick up on one of the more familiar tropes once things get a little further (I’m nowhere near done with the game, and it is called prophesies after all) but for now I’m enjoying the novelty of a story that doesn’t start with the chosen one and end with the defeat of Baron Von Badass.
I’m not at all happy with the leveling system in this game. This seems to be a game for people who dislike leveling. Going up in level provides a very modest boost to power, and there aren’t very many such small steps to take. My own preference is for a system which is the direct opposite of this. I like leveling to be rewarding and meaningful, and I like those rewards to come often.
You can’t get the visceral thrill of running into an early-game foe and nuking him in a single hit, because even those foes can still put up a decent fight. You can’t get the satisfaction of at last overcoming a previously insurmountable foe, because the game is so linear that you don’t run into foes until you’re ready for them.
Gaining a level is such a small reward that it’s just nothing to get excited about.
This is where a large portion of your power comes from. Find somebody who will teach you “Improved fireballing of awesomeness” and do whatever quest they want in exchange for teaching it to you. But the problem here is that you don’t know the abilities are there or that you need them. They aren’t goals you can work for. They’re just stuff you find.
There are a lot of skills, and I never felt like the game gave me a good indication of which skills were good, how to get them, and how to use them. I don’t mind a little discovery in a game, but this was a bit much. Most players use one of the pre-made “builds” posted online. Some munchkin min-maxer has done the math, worked out the ideal array of skills, and written down where to find them and how many points to invest in each one.
Fumbling around in the dark, wondering what I’m doing wrong doesn’t appeal to me. But neither does following a pre-made recipe.
I just couldn’t get into this aspect of the game.
What the game calls crafting isn’t really. It’s just a very complicated system of purchase. You tear apart items looted from monsters to get their raw materials. (Leather, cloth, iron, etc.) You then take these raw materials to the armor smith and choose the item you want to buy. If you have the raw materials required, he’ll forge a set of armor made just for you. Nobody else can wear it, which means there are never hand-me-downs in this game. Your old armor is pretty much worthless.
I’m actually one of those players who likes playing dress-up with his avatar. Even in a single player game, I’ll sometimes discard a stronger piece of armor for the one with the more impressive appearance. To the game’s credit, they let you make some fantastic characters. This is where the strong art direction of the game really shines, because the people and the costumes start out looking good and continue to improve as you advance through the game.
On the other hand, there is a pervasive feeling that everyone kind of looks like the same few people with different haircuts. (This is especially bad with the women, since they all have the same supermodel physique.) It’s not all that exciting to be a beautiful person in a world where everyone is gorgeous. Every character in the game looks like a professional model in their mid-twenties with perfect bodies and perfect skin and flawless hair. Even the NPCs seem young and hale. Nobody is ugly, elderly, heavy, scrawny, balding, blotchy skin, or suffering from bad posture or a dumb haircut. (Although most of the haircuts are exceptionally impractical.) The parade of magazine models gets monotonous after a while, and I find myself wishing I could look dumpy just so I could be different in some way.
The armor looks cool, but the items are designed around sets made to look good together, so you see the same few outfits a lot. You’re free to mix the chestplate from set A with the leggings of set B if you want to be different, but it’s usually like wearing a leather jacket with a tuxedo. Both look great, but they lose their charm when combined.
Still, I admit I do see the level 20 players knocking around town in their 30%-better-looking-than-mine outfits and find myself looking forward to when I can get my hands on that.
I also think the game should let you see more choices in the merchant window, even if you can’t obtain them yet. For the last several sessions I’ve had the best outfit currently available, and no indication as to when more might apear. Seeing the next tier of armor would help in creating short-term goals. Just one more level and I can get the glittering armor with those awesome shoulderpads.
So there isn’t a crafting system per se, it’s just a very complex system for buying armor.
The foes in the game don’t drop loot very often (aside from money) and the loot they do drop is very rarely useful. This isn’t bad. A game doesn’t need to be an exercise in pià±ata-smashing to be fun, although since the shopping / crafting is so one-dimensional it would be good if the looting was more interesting. When you find an item it will either be crap (break it down into raw materials) or good (haul it back to town and sell it for gold towards something you really want.
There is nothing wrong with the looting in the game, it’s just something that could be a compelling activity but isn’t.
I mostly covered this in my previous post. The gamespace, like everything else in Guild Wars, is gorgeous to look at. Individual areas of the world drag on for longer than I think they need to, and the narrow paths can make exploration frustrating at times, but I still love reaching new areas and looking them over.
Guild Wars is a very focused game. It doesn’t strive to do a lot of things, but the things it does do are polished to a high-gloss shine. I’m not sure how much further I’ll go with it.
It’s so different from other games that it really needs a demo. I wish I could point you at one, because a lot of my gripes with the game might be seen as advantages for people who dislike the traditional RPG / MMO recipe.
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