Choose My Adventure tours a new MMO every month — with you, the reader, as the co-pilot, voting for how the writer plays from week to week. Our current captain is Eliot Lefebvre. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]
I was a bit disappointed to see that last week’s poll for Secret World Legends
went to the Illuminati. I played the Illuminati my first time through, you see, and while I quite like the Illuminati, it does rather give me a dearth of new experiences, yes? But then, the point was that this was all supposed to be new experiences, so I shrugged it off. We’re back to the organization that treats secret lore like corporate data points, spectacular.
That may sound a bit dismissive, but it’s not really meant to be. And hey, this will provide a useful point of comparison when contrasted against my original experiences. So I start up, click through the character creator, and find myself thinking that it used to be a fair bit more flexible. Maybe not leaps and bounds, but at least somewhat, right? There used to be more options for hair color and facial features, yes? Or am I deluding myself?
Then I log in, and it’s the same damn game as it used to be.
Oh, Secret World Legends
. What are you? Are you a Frankensteinian change forced upon an existing beloved game that sucked some of the life and character out from your original source? Are you a relaunch that was billed as being something bigger than you actually were? Are you a new game that inherits the theme and setting of your nominal predecessor? Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
As I have mentioned, I don’t have history with SWL. I do, however, have history with The Secret World. And the fun thing is that said history informs my attitude going into this title as well as the reasons behind the remake-slash-rebranding, so it’s worth examining that along the way. Just as it’s also worth noting that The Secret World has also long been a victim of Funcom’s slow-running financial implosion.
I am not done with Guild Wars 2
This may or may not come as a surprise to people, but it’s still the case regardless. I am done with this round of Choose My Adventure with it, of course, and that means I can put Ceilarene down if I so desire (which, to be fair, I probably will for a while, at least). But I am not actually done with the game, and I suspect it will remain in my “vacation” rotation for a while to come. Something to dive into as I feel like it, in other words.
It’s a somewhat surprising outcome to me, as I had expected a pleasant enough bit of reconnection followed by a rather untroubled separation. But no, I had enough fun that I’m not quite willing to announce myself as done with the title just yet.
Well, this is a bit awkward. I appear to have run out of things to say.
This is not inherently a bad thing. My time with Guild Wars 2 has not been unpleasant (but you can read more about that next week), even if it hasn’t been perfect; I’ve been having fun. At the same time, once you’ve dissected the game’s various map-based offerings and the story’s general flow, there’s not a whole lot else to be said. I could pick apart bits and pieces of the story that work better or worse, but at that point, isn’t it largely perfunctory?
Of course, there is something to be said for the paucity of other things to talk about. Path of Fire is an interesting experience to come back for, because while you can see that the game is putting in overtime to address some of the issues from Heart of Thorns, there are other issues that either aren’t addressed or aren’t addressed terribly well, both of which are interesting to analyze. From my perspective, anyhow.
One of the points of the polls and discussions for Guild Wars 2
the other week was that while I could focus on either map antics or storyline progression, I wouldn’t be doing just one or the other. Some of this is just practicality – if a story mission is bringing me close to a waypoint anyway, it would be silly for me to just shrug and not pick it up, and it’s kind of important that I use whatever means available to me to pick up more Hero points. But some of it was the fact that the game has, in many ways, an organic flow.
The game’s story doesn’t always bring you to the important places, but it usually at least strives to push players into spaces where they’re going to brush up against points of interest. (By which I mean “all the various map icons” rather than the game-specific definition of “point of interest.”) The intent, then, is not that you spend all of your time doing one thing or the other; you spend your time doing both, running through story instances and then hopping back out as it becomes relevant.
To my absolute lack of a surprise
, the fact that your abilities are so aggressively limited once you pick an Elite Specialization in Guild Wars 2
came back to make this week a bit harder than it needed to be. But not, perhaps, as hard as it could have been. That’s something to discuss further on, though; for the moment, what’s more important is progressing along with the story of Path of Fire
and figuring out who to support, who to ally with, and what Balthazar really wants.
Let me get my one complaint about the story thus far out of the way immediately: the game is bad about filling you in on what’s going on. I hit this a little bit last week when dealing with what I called the second reel of a film, but this week I actually had an easier time following along… because of existing knowledge about the world. Which is nice, certainly, but you should not need to functionally be a Tyrian historian just to understand the events taking place. The full weight? Sure. The meaning? No.
My first week of playing Guild Wars 2
again was interesting, in no small part because it’s rare for my playtime to be so devoted to being able to play what the vote indicates. Yes, it’s true, I did not actually get much playtime in for Holosmith with this first week, simply because… well, how could I? I had to unlock the elite spec first, and that requires a fair bit of doing, enough that it inspired a completely different article.
So that was some frustration, and it leads to more polls this week, but I don’t want people to come away thinking that I’m already not having fun with the game. Quite the opposite, in fact; while there are frustrations in how things are designed for unlocking elite specializations, there’s enough to like about the game on a whole that I can’t complain too much. But let’s start at the very beginning, which I’ve heard is a very good place to start.
Many moons ago, when I was first hired on Massively-that-was, my fellow hire at the time was a lady by the name of Rubi Bayer. We hit it off pretty well and became friends. She was also very excited about a title that had yet to come out at the time, a game by the name of Guild Wars 2. For those of you coming to this story without knowledge of names, she’s now working for ArenaNet on that exact same game, along with two other former writers from our staff, all of whom are people I consider friends of mine.
So perhaps it’s a bit odd that I’ve not played Guild Wars 2 since well before Heart of Thorns launched. I have some history with the game, but it’s never been one of my main titles. And now that I’m heading back into it for its second major expansion, I think it’s a fine time to walk back through my experiences there, what I hope to find, and also ask a few reader questions along the way. Because that’s how polls work, after all.
All the time through playing Shroud of the Avatar, I found myself wanting to like the game a lot more than I did. And my brain kept turning back to Minecraft, which seems like a worthwhile comparison to make.
Much like SOTA, Minecraft is a game strongly based on the concept of making your own fun. You are definitely making your own adventure in the game. But at the same time, it seems very relevant to point out that the game starts by giving you a clear set of parameters to work within. Monsters will spawn at night, there are resources under ground, you break things to get better things, and then combine those things to make still better things. From there on out, much of the game is devoted to figuring out how these various elements play off of one another.
So they’re both sandbox-ish titles in which you make your own fun. Except that one of them starts by showing you the fun that you’re supposed to be having and giving you a goal, and it does so with absolutely no story to guide you along that route. It shows you exactly the sort of game it’s trying to be and lets you start working at meeting it halfway. But SOTA never quite got there, at least for me.
One of the first things I did in Shroud of the Avatar was get kind of lost. The last week’s activities were largely similar. Only now, it was a different kind of lost.
It wasn’t just that I didn’t have much of anywhere to go; that was how the vote went, after all, and while it might not have been my first choice that’s kind of the purpose behind voting instead of just letting me decide everything. It wasn’t just that the areas afforded me little to no guidance about points of interest. It was that I kept asking myself “why?” as I worked, fought things, explored, and so forth.
No answers were forthcoming. And perhaps that’s missing the point, but it also struck me that this is part of the reason why a guild may have made a major difference here. Albeit not necessarily for the best, but let me get into that as I go.
Finding the fun, I’m sorry to say, was a bit on the fleeting side.
The problem isn’t that Shroud of the Avatar suddenly stopped having any of the redeeming features I noted last week; no, the stuff I found there is still there this week, and it’s not as if I can’t find any of that fun. The problem is the one that shows up reasonably often in situations like this. Having found the fun and gotten the shape of how the game’s mechanics are going to go for a while, the game ran into the related but also different problem wherein there’s nothing to advance for.
It’s not that I lost the fun, then. It’s that the fun was in some ways contingent upon having a reason to level up, and once that tenuous connection of goals was lost it wound up leaving me with the question of why, exactly, I was doing this. I never found much of a solution to that, either, so that’s not a good sign.
One of the things that I believe is utterly vital to writing about games in general and MMOs in particular is finding the fun. It’s sometimes difficult, but I think finding the fun is the difference between saying that a game is hot garbage (which it may be) and saying that it’s not to your tastes. That’s not to say the fun is even always there to be found, but if you can understand why someone might enjoy the game, you can at least work from common grounding.
It was something I hadn’t managed the last time I played through Shroud of the Avatar. I wanted to find that this week, and I’m happy to say that I did… sort of. My suspicion is that I didn’t so much find the fun as I found some fun, but considering where I was starting from when going into this week, I’m more than willing to take that as an upward move.
Heading into Shroud of the Avatar for the first time was a bit of a strange experience for me, right from the start. Usually, when I start playing a new game, I start forming impressions and then spend the next few weeks refining those impressions in either direction. This time, I am utterly unsure of how I feel about the game, and I suspect that the next few weeks are going to make that more complex, not less.
And part of me can’t help but wonder if some of that is just a matter of missing vital reference points.
I don’t mean that in the sense of the game being actually impenetrable; it’s just that I find myself constantly asking if something that bugs me is, in fact, exactly the way it’s supposed to be for fans of the genre and Garriott’s prior work. Which is a trip, let me tell you that. I’m staggering through dark woods, getting my throat chewed on by a wolf, and I’m seized with the urge to ask the wolf if this is, in fact, an intended portion of design. You know, between bites of my trachea.