Tag Archives: melmoth

Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate.

I used to be in the habit of turning off General Chat upon first entering an MMO, or at the very least flinging it into a separate tab of the chat window marked ‘DANGER – MINDFIELD!’ to caution me against the volatile minds buried within. I performed the same operation upon first entering Tera, and thankfully the game remembers these settings between alts – because recently I’ve rolled a lot of alts. With limited time to play in past weeks, I’ve primarily taken to rolling a new race and class each time I login, and then blasting through as much of the starter area of the Island of Dawn as time will allow. This enables me to experience some of the flavour of each class, and at the same time inject a few delirious hits of Ding to keep my MMO cravings in check and leave me languorous, before I invariably have to dash off to take care of real life responsibilities.

In the early days of the game the global chat was an unending stream of drivel, as is often the way in MMOs, and it inexorably built up to the usual thundering churning deluge of froth and furore, as torrents of abuse dashed themselves on the unchangeable rocks of personal opinion, forming whirlpools of circular arguments that spun in upon themselves, drawing down to the suffocating depths of their unreason anything foolish enough to drift too close to the topic at its centre.

I diverted the river of global chat into a remote reservoir, which this time I labelled ‘Barrens’, and forgot about it for a good long while.

Nevertheless a lot of an MMO’s community is in its text chat, so I would occasionally flick back to Barrens to see if anything had changed. About a week or so later things started to calm down, and the global chat channel changed from frustrating to fascinating – now a fast but freely flowing expanse of diverse topics. I had rolled on an RP server, as I usually do, with the hope that a slightly more sensible subset of players would migrate there; I was quite surprised, however, at the dramatic change in the channel, and indeed one of the topics under discussion was that very fact. It transpires that the river of drivel had struck a tributary, and the LFG channel was where the rapids of rage now ran. So I left Barrens open by default, and flicked my attention to it every now and again while I repeatedly adventured across the Island of Dawn.

What was fascinating about the channel was that it had become a microcosm of the blogosphere: nearly every general topic that I’ve seen repeatedly touched upon over the past five or so years of blogging was mentioned in this one place, all in the fast forward nature of a back-and-forth conversation between people whose attention was invariably elsewhere. I quickly found myself privately playing Cassandra to any topic raised, knowing full well the future of each discussion, where the disagreements would come from, and the conclusions which would be drawn. It was at the same time amusing and saddening to see nearly all of the discussions follow disturbingly similar paths to those we’ve seen repeated amongst blogs over the years.

That the river of global chat drivel should break its banks and flood the fields of normality is no real surprise; it’s the fact that, upon receding, it left behind such a fertile field of rich discourse. I was tempted to turn the thing into an experiment – to start seeding topics into that fruitful soil, and harvest the bounteous crop of conclusions which grew there. And then I wondered –seeing as no idea in blogging is ever original– whether others had already done the same. Whether developers had already done the same.

An interesting topic perhaps, but whether I could raise the topic of ‘raising topics as an experiment in fast-forward blogging’ as an experiment in fast-forward blogging, without causing a segfault in the universe, I’m as yet undecided.

But, alas, to make me a fixed figure for the time of scorn.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

            – Excerpt from High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

As it was when I wrote about my enjoyment of the small detail of a turning horse’s head in Lord of the Rings Online, there are elements to Tera which are just breathtaking. Contrails form from your mount’s wingtips as you fly between locations; I haven’t worked out if they’re random or based upon the environment being passed through, but it is a simple moment of delight when they appear.

I’ve deleted the two thousand or so words which I wrote next, because many people have already judged the game and those who play it, and I cannot bring myself to present a justification for my playing it to the MMO equivalent of Freud’s inner circle.

Suffice it to say that I feel this is a game which tried not to bridge the chasmal divide between Eastern and Western cultures, but launched itself wholly across in an attempt to forge a beachhead, and found itself firmly repelled.

My time with Tera will shortly be drawing to a close, but I don’t regret having played it, for I have had joyous encounters on my journeys within both the world and the game, where I discovered a different culture of design, all of which I happily feel has been a worthwhile expansion to the universality of my MMO experience.

Every man of ambition has to fight his century with its own weapons.

With the instigation of a stress test for Guild Wars 2 this past Monday, I was able to log-in and refresh my memory with regard to some of the game’s systems. As such it gave me a nice opportunity to compare and contrast some of the ideas realised within that game with those found in TERA, which I’m currently playing.

My first impression is that in the classroom of MMOs, TERA is that kid who was brilliant at one subject; in all else that kid was at best average, but in one subject they grew whiskers and a shock of white hair and positively shone, in the eyes of their peers becoming a cross between a Super Saiyan and Albert Einstein. TERA is really rather good at action combat. Guild Wars 2, however, seems like the kid who was never brilliant, but was pretty good at absolutely everything, irritatingly popular, and likely to become head pupil of the school upon reaching the sixth form.

Do feel free to carry the analogy wildly off on your own tangents. For example, I picture EVE to be the gruff kid who sits at the back of the class jeering at everyone else and occasionally flicking the ears of World of Warcraft, who used to be the popular rich kid until everyone finally tired of him always turning up with more complicated and expensive versions of other kids’ toys, which he’d invariably break by the end of the first day.

One difference between TERA and GW2 which I find Quite Interesting, but others may find somewhat more prosaic, is the role of weapons within the game. For TERA, each class has a single weapon set available to it. The Warrior dual wields swords, but the representation of these swords is one icon; the Lancer’s shield and lance are also represented by a single entity. Therefore there are no cross-class loot issues when it comes to weapons in TERA – every class has its own weapon set, and every set is self-contained, even if it is comprised of more than one functional item. I really like the system; it’s a simple and elegant way to eliminate the issue of dual wielding classes having to keep multiple weapons/shields/handbags upgraded in order to remain viable, compared to their single-weapon counterparts.

Speaking of maintaining multiple weapons brings up one of my minor concerns for Guild Wars 2: good grief if there aren’t a lot of weapons to maintain in that game, at least for certain classes. Take the Warrior in GW2, for example, who can wield a prodigious variety of weapons. The fact that certain skills –and thus certain styles of play– are intrinsically linked to a weapon type means that, in theory, the Warrior will need to keep two swords, two axes, two maces, a warhorn, a shield, a greatsword, a hammer, a longbow and a rifle all upgraded in order to be able to fulfill each and every play style. Now, perhaps this is not the intention, and a player will be encouraged to focus on one or two themes, but it certainly seems a little overwhelming to think that a Warrior might want (but hopefully not need) to maintain an up-to-date version of all these various items.

Until my knowledge of the game has matured, it’s hard to know how this will resolve itself – weapon level could be irrelevant when compared to the power of the skills which the weapon enables, for example. Suffice it to say that I remain as yet unconvinced where this linkage between skill system and weapon requirement is concerned, but I keep an open mind as always. However, I think that thematically it’s a fabulous idea, where each weapon offers its own distinct flavour of combat, rather than just a mechanical flip of a damage type stat.

And in our contemplation of damage-type-weapon-swapping shenanigans, let us bow our heads and take a moment to reflect upon the current king of weapon stockpiling: Dungeons & Dragons Online. For no DDO session can be complete without the party emptying out their backpacks into the middle of the dungeon floor, rummaging through the subsequent pile of weapons as though they were Lego, and trying to find the exact right piece to fit their current build requirements.

“Dang. If anyone finds a dark blue four-er, can they let me have it?”

“Is that a two-by-two four-er, or a four-by-one? And do you need it in piercing, bludgeoning, slashing, adamantine, byeshk, cold iron, crystal, mithral or alchemical silver?”


The Secret, Whirled.

Guild Wars 2 has reached 500,000 Facebook fans, and some of them are real too! As such they’ve released some new artwork for their fans to enjoy; you can view the original work and leave a comment here.


Just as an exercise for the reader though, I’ve included a copy of the artwork within this post. Take a ruler, and mark yourself a trajectory by following the line of Eir’s aim along her arm.

Yes indeed, what ArenaNet have actually done here is to stealthily encode a reveal for the new Ranger Elite skill in Guild Wars 2: Dragon Nutshot.

Oh, I’m definitely playing a Ranger now.

P.S. Upon considering the above, I began to question what exactly is going on between the dragon’s legs. Is that a cosmos, or is he (just pleased to see us – Ed.) evacuating himself of chromatically distorted dragon pee after having been hit by an arrow? There definitely seems to be some sort of explosion of dark tendrils going on in the nether regions there. Further supporting evidence for my theory, if ever there was.

You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.

Due to quests in TERA being such a general irrelevance, I find myself filtering the order of quests I undertake by giving preference to those which offer equipment upgrades; although, I’m still not sure about the technical accuracy of ‘upgrade’ in the context of a game where your character wears less armour the more they grow in power. It was always something which intrigued me about Star Wars: The Old Republic, the fact that the quests never showed a preview of the reward you’d be getting, and –perhaps due to the generally excellent storytelling– I never cared to know.

It’s a simple distinction, but an interesting one. By having the carrot waved around in front of their nose, the player rarely cares about the path they take while pulling the developer’s cart of flow. The developer, guiding the player in this way, gains a great deal of control and can instil motivation in the player, all without the need for world building or story. In fact, the reward will detract from the story in most instances, and I think it’s another area where BioWare were clever and alert to the pitfalls of the genre they were entering. The last thing you need in the Regency era ballroom of storytelling, where players are invited to twirl elegantly through the carefully choreographed steps of the plot, is a DJ in the corner with the glitter ball of phat loot, spinning to the thumping rhythm of tracks from Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward.

TERA is a curious beast in terms of how players are directed in their questing. There is a strong World-of-Warcraft-like impetus to click through the quest text and get on with adventuring, especially considering that the combat is the stronger pillar of the game’s foundation, along with the aforementioned carrot of the rewards being presented up-front. What’s more, clicking on any highlighted name in the quest text will place a marker on the player’s map as to where that mob can be found. In essence, the game seems to be using quests as an enabler to drive the players into combat, as per the standard MMO model. However, the game also marks any mobs for which the player currently has a quest by placing an exclamation mark above their head. Here we find the ubiquitous ‘quest marker’ being employed not only as a way for players to easily find quests, but the quest mobs themselves. What I find strange is that this would be a perfectly excellent way to remove some of the production line feel from an MMO, that of grabbing quests in an area and then slaughtering all the wildlife in the vicinity until the quest tracker was full of green ticks. Being able to wander freely, and have any Mobs of Interest highlighted to the player as they explore, seems a far more natural and immersive system than the current MMO standard – Lord of the Geocachings. I really like the idea, but it’s bizarrely extraneous in a game such as TERA, where there is no discernible reason to explore the world –outside of the potential for a screenshot opportunity (of which there is an opportunity roughly every four yards in this painfully pretty game)– and every quest mob can be found with pinpoint precision, each player a laser-guided bomb of mob obliteration.

It’s interesting how small adjustments in the presentation of quests, their rewards, and their objectives, can quite dramatically change the perspective from which a player approaches them. In a game where combat is its own reward, is the loot carrot really necessary? If a game wishes to encourage exploration and adventure, should it perhaps spend time finding ways to remove the unnatural geocaching of quests, rather than inventing new game-play mechanisms? Mechanisms which are layered on top of the already proven questing system, and thus often feel forced.

As the fundamental enabler of flow in MMOs for many years, it’s curious to see how little has changed in the design of quest presentation over the years, and fascinating to see just how little change is required to transform the way a player views the world through the questing lens, where slight adjustments to structure can alter the focus of a player’s attentions, blurring the boundary between mechanisms and mind-set, while throwing the game’s world into sharper relief.

Thought for the day.

Plus ça change: I remember how any new MMO that launched would have a General Chat channel filled with proclamations of how much better the game was than World of Warcraft. I’ve been in two new MMOs recently, and I’ve seen none of that usual banter.

Plus c’est la même chose: Now everyone is jabbering on about how much better the game is than Star Wars: The Old Republic.

A noble craft, and also a most lively!

One of the nifty![TM] features I’ve experienced in a couple of recent MMOs is the inclusion of crafting in other aspects of the game, outside of merely producing five million worthless trinkets to be sold to a vendor, before being able to finally produce the epic quality Toe Ring of Time, which gives your character a best-in-slot 0.01% boost in DPS over anything you can acquire in the levelling game, which nobody will ever be aware of, and which will be replaced by the first piece of end-game dungeon loot that drops.

The first of these is within Star Wars: The Old Republic. Crafting skills in SWTOR can be used to bypass areas of the game’s instanced dungeons – flashpoints. I love the idea of this, the fact that being a crafter of a certain type actually means something. What I particularly liked was that access to a shortcut or bonus area was themed towards the type of crafter who could negotiate that access. A set of tunnels which take the players around several corridors of heavily armed guards might be filled with a poisonous gas, and thus a Biochem specialist would be required to repair the filtration system which would neutralise the obstacle; someone versed in Cybertech might be able to reactivate a facility’s sentry droids, turning them against the mobstacles that litter the paths through the instance. It’s not essential to have a crafter of a certain type along, all the crafting activated events are usually bonuses and shortcuts which make the job easier, and not requisites for successfully completing the instance. I think BioWare struck a nice balance between players getting a bonus for having a certain crafting class, without it being compulsory to ‘bring along a crafter’. M’colleague informs me that, alas, this design featured less heavily in the later flashpoints he experienced.

It was whilst playing TERA that I was reminded of SWTOR’s subtle mechanic for craftily encouraging crafting. In TERA, each crafting node will grant a modest buff when harvested. It seems that these buffs are random, or perhaps tied to the type of node harvested, but by gathering from a number of nodes you can quickly find yourself with a considerable stack of buffs, which although modest in their own right, can result in quite a boost to your combat prowess when their effects are combined. I like this system better than that provided in World of Warcraft, where the gathering profession itself gives you a permanent boost to a stat, or a utility ability, because WoW’s system just becomes another item on the Great Min-Max List (‘Has optimal gathering profession to boost combat prowess?’), whereas TERA’s system temporarily rewards you for the act of gathering itself; for crafters or auction house wranglers this is a non-issue, but for everyone else there’s now a reason to get involved in gathering, and hey, if you have all those crafting materials in your inventory, why not try putting something together? Incidental crafting –which may in turn lead a player to discover a deeper love of crafting than they would have otherwise imagined– is a nice side benefit of such a system.

I really like this blending of boundaries, where consideration is given to the fact that gathering from crafting nodes doesn’t have to exclusively produce materials for crafting, and where crafting doesn’t have to correspond purely to churning out equipment. It draws those mechanics into the main combat-driven system, smudges the edges, blurs the demarcations, but does so by giving modest bonuses to those players who gave it a try, not by punishing those who didn’t.

I’d certainly like to see more features like these in future MMOs, because I feel that it’s very much this sort of parallel design that helps to make a game feel like a world, rather than a series of independent mechanical systems.

What you might see as depravity is, to me, just another aspect of the human condition.

Having reached level twelve and finished the quests on the introductory Island of Dawn, I took the Pegasus flight to the major city of Velika. Situated in Southern Arun, this is the seat of the Valkyon Federation, a coalition of all the civilised races of the land against the invading Argons. The flight into the city was stunning, as my mount ‘rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend’, wending its way around the blanket of countryside rolled-up around the city’s waist, I could only marvel at the exquisiteness of the environs. There’s no doubt that these worlds which we inhabit have developed, in graphical terms, to the point where it seems as though one could reach through that lambent mirror sat upon the desk, and grasp the infinite pixels of possibility which it reflects.

After exploring the city for a while, and claiming my mount (which is granted at level eleven and instant cast – huzzah!), I went to the main hall to speak to the commanders of the war effort there, whereupon after a brief “well done” from the leader, I was palmed off onto a rather brusque and patronising fellow who pointed his sword threateningly at me, and told me not to get cocky after my initial success on the Island of Dawn. I could only look at him in wondrous disbelief, before pointing at my outfit, raising an eyebrow, and querying just whereabouts he imagined I’d be hiding any cockiness. He was lucky he didn’t get an extending lance right in his.

Of course that wasn’t terribly likely to cause him any trouble, because all the men in TERA are pusillanimous braggarts, encased in armour so thick that they reach for a can opener every time they need to pee. Wrapped in their comforting cloak of cowardice, they had the audacity to stand there and tell me that I had no sense of proportion. I told them that my sense of proportion was just fine, and that I had ample evidence of such every time I had to look at myself in a mirror.

I still reckon I could take ’em in a fight.

Having left the Keg Brothers to pat each other on their well-armoured backs, I ventured around the city once more. When a world is as beautiful as this, it draws you into the environments and encourages you to observe your surroundings. For example: I met this lovely lady, Ciebel, a priestess, and I couldn’t help but stop to praise her on her choice of outfit. “Finally” I thought, “a place without overt sexualisation of women! Here is this fine young priestess, in a slender yet chaste dress, who clearly has rejected the more lascivious outfits of the warrior caste.” I wandered away in quiet satisfaction, exultant in finding this small sanctuary in the city, where an innocent priestess stands removed from the incessant sexuality prevalent elsewhere in the realm!

But wait, elation! Joy of joys! In my wanderings I stumbled upon the cosmetic armour vendor. TERA has many cosmetic armour slots, and here I had discovered the Equipment Remodeller, who could offer cosmetic armour items! For a considerable sum of gold, of course. A considerable sum, but one which will be worth every scraped-together-coin, for I had found a set of sensible armour for myself. I could go back to the Keg Brothers and point my lance at them, and say “Hah! Observe how I am appropriately attired for battle and weep, for I could beat you all when I wore but a piece of thin copper wire as a thong, and so now… now I shall be as to a goddess walking amongst mortals!”

So, thank you Equipment Remodeller, thank you from deep within my heavily armoured breast. You are a shining beacon in a world of depravity, and I praise the gods for your presence. In this land where women are forced to wear degrading outfits, you are here with your sense of decorum, your sense of reserve and your sense of dignity. You have fashioned outfits which are tasteful, sensible, and practical. You stand as an example to all, and I would hold you up to all the world as the way that things should really be. Come. Come Equipment Remodeller, come here and let me hold you up, literally upon my shoulder, and I will raise you toward the heavens and rent the air with a cry of exaltation. Come here and… ah. Oh dear. Oh dear me.

You play the hand you’re dealt. I think the game’s worthwhile.

Sometimes I fear my hands are no longer the natural appendages to my own body with which I was born, but instead have been replaced by sentient creatures with a will of their own. At night they plot and scheme, writing messages to one another and performing complex charades. Then they move my alarm clock so I can’t find it in the morning, before burying themselves beneath me in such a way that I wake up with a dead arm. Attempting to find a wandering alarm clock with a dead arm at five thirty in the morning, while desperately trying not to wake your slumbering partner, is one of life’s more slapstick challenges. With the dull weariness of the recently awoken, your arm flops across to where the alarm clock should be, in order to strike it roughly about the head and silence its infernal chirping. But the alarm clock isn’t where you expect it to be, the realisation of which is replaced by the dawning awareness that you have no real control over your dead arm as it lands on the bedside table with a thunk – the sort of thunk which during the active hours of the day would go entirely without notice, but at silly o’clock in the morning is a thunk to rival the very thunder of the gods. In panic –partly because you’re still half asleep and partly from the innate survival instinct of avoiding death by not waking your partner– you yank your arm back, entirely forgetting you have no control of it, at which point it falls from the sky like a felled tree and strikes you sharply across the face. This has the benefit of waking you up properly. Unfortunately, your natural response to this attack from an unknown assailant is to leap from your bed and prepare to have at it, and thus you push yourself up and swing your legs out of bed with haste. You push yourself up, alas, with an arm that is still entirely unwilling to re-join the great collective adventure that is being a part of your body. As your arm gives way and folds in two, halfway through lifting you up, you can only reflect that this isn’t the sort of immediacy of exit you had planned as your head rebounds off the pillow and strikes the bedside table before following the rest of your body into a heap on the floor, followed shortly by the alarm clock, knocked from its perch, which turns itself off by striking you smartly on the nose.

All of which is to say that my hands are treacherous and work against my will, which conveniently allows me to explain how I ended up purchasing TERA this past weekend and playing it whenever time would allow. I mean, I turn my back for one second, and before I know it my hands are off signing me up for an account and downloading the game. The returns form on En Masse Entertainment’s website did not include an option for ‘Betrayed by evil sentient hand mimics’, so I decided that I would keep the game and see what it was all about.

Perhaps it’s an issue with the MMO model, but it is very easy for me to treat an MMO purchase as I would any single player game. That is, I will spend around £30-£40 and get a game from which I can expect around twenty hours or so of enjoyable game play. If I’m sold on the game after my thirty days of time is up, I can purchase DLC which allows me to continue the story. A single player game can clearly be replayed without further cost, but I can’t kid myself into thinking that I need the option to replay the game: the number of games I’ve ever been bothered to go back and play again, in all my years of gaming, can probably still be counted on my fingers. I see games such as Dragon Age and Skyrim as exceptional value for money, rather than the norm; I’d rather they were the norm, of course, but with the gaming industry such as it is, £1 per hour of entertainment seems to be the median. As such, MMOs don’t look too bad at all based on a box price and a month of play, with the caveats that you need to have the time to dedicate to the game Right Now, and you need to enjoy the sort of gaming experience which MMOs offer, compared to the more tailored experiences you get in games such as Skyrim or Dragon Age. I think this is where Star Wars: The Old Republic gets into trouble: in trying to offer this tailored experience within the framework of an MMO, it seems to struggle to mediate between the limitations of the two styles of gaming experience. SWTOR is clearly a successful game, but is it successful enough to justify the step change in development costs that its genre-hopping entailed?

My initial thoughts on TERA are very much as those that have been reported by sources elsewhere – I don’t think I’ll be in it for the long term, but I’m enjoying the experience so far. TERA’s combat is definitely fun, not a revolution, but certainly more what I’d imagined Guild Wars 2’s combat would feel like, where GW2 actually seemed to lean much further towards the traditional MMO combat style. TERA feels like an advance on DDO’s dynamic combat, and GW2 felt to me like a strange hybrid between Guild Wars and World of Warcraft. Where the environments in TERA are stunningly beautiful, the quest design is just stunning, in the more traditional blow-to-the-head wake-up-in-a-pool-of-blood-with-a-cracking-headache-and-no-idea-who-you-are sort of way. The saving grace, as others have already mentioned, is that the combat is a great deal of fun, so being told to go and Kill Ten Nouns (first MMO to have a creature called a Noun gets five bonus KiaSA points) is not seen by the player as another chore to be done in order to get their pocket experience. Is the combat good enough to carry the entire game? I think that’s where I find I’ll be leaving before too terribly long; as good as the combat is, and as lovely as the world design may be, I need more substance to my RPG. If they’d included more exploration and events akin to Guild Wars 2’s efforts, I could probably be happy that the quest design is so bland, but as it stands I just don’t think that the combat system will carry me through to the end game. Give me TERA’s combat and Guild Wars 2’s… everything else, and I’d probably be a very happy Melmoth, though.

Do I need to comment on the misogynistic treatment of female characters vis-à-vis their ludicrously sexualised outfits? Perhaps this is by design – an attempt to distract players away from the bland and repetitive quests; I imagine players are either so outraged that they find themselves happy to take out their frustrations on the nearest NPC which will accept a hammer to the face, or too busy trying to manage the extreme challenge of playing a complex action combat MMO with only one hand.

I’ll let you know how I’m getting on with the game at a later date, but for the time being I think it will be an interesting filler between my static group night in DDO, and the time Guild Wars 2 comes along and lays waste to my limited free time.

And for the record: if I do happen to find myself playing with only one hand, you can rest assured that it’s entirely an evil ploy by one of my traitorous sentient hand mimics.

And the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities and talents.

As I mentioned in the comments to a previous post, Guild Wars 2 seems to be a hybrid of questing and exploration, and as m’colleague so splendidly analogised yesterday, Guild Wars 2 seems to fit the bill of being a playground MMO, and this has me rather enthused. The theme park MMOs provide entertainment in a very regimented fashion, with players following the park’s set paths in order to join the queues for rides, where they receive a short infusion of thrill and verve. The sandbox MMO sits at the other end of the scale, providing no direction at all; much like the artist presented with a block of marble, the player in a sandbox MMO generally has to be able to visualise form within the blankness of the medium, and then act upon the medium to realise that form. As it is that many people are not artists, so it is that many players are not amenable to sandbox MMOs, often feeling lost, overwhelmed and daunted.

The playground MMO strives to strike a balance between the two extremes, and this was clearly what the public quests of Warhammer Online and the rifts of Rift were aiming to provide. Guild Wars 2 takes the idea a step further, however, in that each area of the playground has multiple ways in which you can play the game, as Hunter highlighted in a recent post. So, to take the analogy and stretch it somewhat into the realms of sexist stereotypes – the boys run around the climbing frame ‘fort’ shooting each other with pretend guns, while the girls can play field nurses to that same game. Or in MMO terms, the Killers and the Socialisers can inhabit the same area and not necessarily get in each other’s way. Meanwhile, the Explorers can wander around discovering all the various parts of the playground (including that hole in the fence behind the bike sheds), and the Achievers can try to involve themselves in as many games as possible, flitting from one to the other without interfering with the game that is being played at the time.

For the player who wants directed questing, there is the main player story and the scouts who will highlight the Events and Hearts in the area. For the player who just wants to do their own thing, it is quite possible to simply wander around the land and see what one stumbles upon. Guild Wars 2 provides a nice balance between sandbox and theme park. Is it the pinnacle of the playground design? I haven’t played enough of the game to be able to tell. It’s possible that this could be the World of Warcraft of playground MMOs; where WoW took the slightly rough and ready theme park crystal, expertly cut and polished it, until the thing shined and sparkled with multifaceted diamond elegance; time will tell if Guild Wars 2 has managed this with the playground model.

What gives me pause for thought is the apparent lack of support for the fundamental MMO social unit – the adventuring party. Most stark was the difficulty of grouping when the overflow servers were in operation, as though no real thought had been given to the traditional MMO social group. More though, there seemed little incentive to group when undertaking an Event or Heart in Guild Wars 2: players simply went about the objective individually, as a group. Perhaps this is by design, where the open world PvE of the game has taken Rift’s ingenious dynamic grouping mechanic to its ultimate conclusion, such that the people in the playground no longer have to restrict themselves to small select groups of friends, and can instead play together freely with as many or as few people as desired. PvP and dungeon instances are where strict groups will form, but in the open world, new players are simply able to join any game in progress without upsetting the balance of play, and are rewarded according to their contribution to the game. It’s not a new idea, we know of MMOs which have already tried to achieve this with varying levels of success, but ArenaNet seem to have designed their open world PvE game entirely around this concept, rather than trying to crowbar it into the gaps between the more inflexible traditions of the theme park.

So this is what interests me most about Guild Wars 2 at the moment: whether ArenaNet have managed to take the concept of the playground MMO –the attractive hybrid of theme park and sandbox– and made it a reality. If so, it may be the case, looking back some time from now, that we find they indeed didn’t provide the huge step change in game mechanics that some players were expecting, but instead made a huge step change in the entire philosophy of design for this style of MMO. Their manifesto claimed as much, and although I’ve yet to see the conclusive evidence which makes me believe, certainly there are hints that this could be the case. And I do want to believe.

There’s definitely some polishing to be done, but it’s possible that a diamond is hidden here, as yet obscured from view by the raw remnants of the crafter’s careful cuts.