While I’m not on board with the game’s character vignettes (which are much more “portrait of this person you don’t really interact with” than anything), there is an underlying story running through every part of the game. I clocked out midway through Egypt when I played the original The Secret World, and there were an assortment of reasons, but part of it was that connection I mentioned above. To wit: the game really likes having mysteries, but it doesn’t really like having answers for a lot of them.
choose my adventure
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]
My feelings on how this actually plays out are slightly mixed, and they wind up coming back a bunch to a combination of the issues with the original The Secret World and to the stuff the current rebranding does or doesn’t change. At face value, the inclusion of levels is probably not a terrible thing, because it provides a useful at-a-glance power metric and doesn’t really obviate the game’s main system of advancement. Any faults it has are more a result of underling issues the game already had just being thrown into sharper relief.
The thing about Kingsmouth is that you can’t really appreciate Kingsmouth unless you’ve actually been to places that feel pretty much like Kingsmouth with a lick of paint. Change the street layouts and call it Vineyard Haven, and I wouldn’t really notice the difference. There’s a degree of verisimilitude there you don’t get with games, which are usually either concerned with the bustle of cities or fanciful lands drawn from cultural theme parks.
Not so on Solomon Island. Yes, it’s in Maine rather than my personal stomping grounds of southern New England, but there’s a real sense that you’re actually dealing with a real place, modeled after real New England seaside communities, complete with a large number of people who don’t seem to be taking it as all that much of a deviation from the norm. When I tell people that this is pretty much true to reality, most of them think I’m joking; I am not.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.