Tag: Guild Wars 2

Looking Ahead at Guild Wars 2: Professions

Courtesy ArenaNet

Has it really been almost a year since I last discussed Guild Wars 2? Sheesh, it’s like I’ve been busy or something. But the release of the game is now a mere 20 days away, and I am finding myself a little flummoxed with indecision. Normally, with games such as this, I will have a main character with whom I’ll do the bulk of my adventuring and role-playing, and several alts with which I’ll dabble. But with the game eschewing traditional ideas of class roles and boasting a diverse stable, I’m not sure where I’ll begin. I’ve discussed the races previously, and now it’s time to tackle the professions.

The Warrior, Ranger, and Thief professions are, perhaps, the most traditional ones that will be available. Like all professions in Guild Wars 2, however, each has access to a variety of weapons, and the equipment you carry determines the skills you have available. Warriors are almost always in-your-face damage dealers, but it’s also possible to carry a shield for some damage mitigation or switch to a rifle when you want to deal damage at range. Similarly, while Rangers are traditionally striking from afar, they can also use dual axes or a sword and dagger combination to get up close and personal. While a Thief can go the traditional daggers route or keep their distance with a brace of pistols, they also can actively steal from an opponent, gaining a situational weapon and skills to change up their role on the fly.

A few of the professions are concerned with controlling the battlefield. Engineers use turrets, mines, grenades, and elixirs tossed from their tool belts to either help their allies or hinder their foes. The tools available change based on the loadout the Engineer has chosen. Guardians, as well, have abilities that can assist those around them or wreck havoc on the enemy. The Guardian combines their variety of weapons with the drawing out of one of three virtues – Courage, Justice, or Resolve – to produce effects that hinder enemy movement, protects allies, or turns the very ground beneath their feet into the best place to be for carrying on the fight.

The aforementioned professions fall into the categories of ‘Soldier’ or ‘Adventurer’. ‘Scholars’ are what we would traditionally consider “magic-users” but even among these professions, there is diversity and depth. Elementalists focus on attacks that utilize one of the four elements – Earth, Air, Water, or Fire – and the character can switch between them at will just as they can their equipment. Necromancers steal the life force of their foes, using it to fuel their dark magic and weaken the enemy while summoning minions to do their bidding. Last but never least, the Mesmer is a master of illusion and misdirection, distracting the enemy with clones and phantasms that can shatter and cause all sorts of mayhem for anybody unfortunate enough to be standing nearby.

The professions that hold the most interest for me are Engineer, Guardian, and Mesmer. Engineer should come as no surprise since I played ranged classes in previous MMOs almost exclusively. However, the Guardian’s various Virtues and variety of ways to support the party while controlling opponents is very appealing, as is the Mesmer’s plethora of illusionary abilities. I also have character write-ups for each of these classes. I will simply have to pick one when Guild Wars 2 releases in just a few short weeks…

Looking Ahead at Guild Wars 2: Races

Courtesy ArenaNet

My wife and I haven’t been doing much in the way of MMOs over the last year. We’ve tried a couple since parting ways with World of Warcraft but none have really hit that “sweet spot” for either of us, the sort of feeling we were expecting that would keep us playing for a long time. But there is one poised to hit that exact spot, and it’s called Guild Wars 2.

I never played the original Guild Wars and, as I understand it, I missed out. As such, I can’t comment on how this game is looking to improve upon or innovate in light of its predecessor. Instead, I’ll point out why I’m eager to get started playing when it’s released some time next year.

The first choice you make in character creation is your character’s race, so let’s talk about those first.

Both the Charr and the Norn appeared in the first Guild Wars, and as I understand it, one or both of them were antagonists. Rather than pulling their cultures out of the aether, however, ArenaNet did a very smart thing in taking notes from our own history. The Charr have their roots planted in the fertile soil of imperial Rome, while the Norn seem to hail from the lands of the ancient Norse, if not Marvel’s Asgard. They’re fleshed out in Guild Wars 2 and while their cultures are different from those of humans, they’re not so alien as to be unappealing; in my case, quite the opposite.

The new races are the Asura and the Sylvari. I’m not a big fan of small races, as much as I love the goblins of Warcraft, but the Asura’s thirst for knowledge, love of artifice and esoteric designs have me curious. The Sylvari, on the other hand, were appealing to me from the start. Their society is based on Arthurian legend and folklore, they have disparate but linked attitudes and personalities that bind them together, and gender is largely a non-issue when it comes to relationships and romance. I am so there.

The humans in Guild Wars 2 seem similar to those in other MMOs, but the strata of their society and the history inherent in having an entire previous game gives them just as much weight as the others. I love the idea of creating a character that will be part of a society that has equal parts familiarity and uniqueness, and every single one here fits that bill. It’s pretty much sold the game to me on that basis alone.

Next up? Classes.

Breaking Gameplay Down

Courtesy Tripwire Entertainment
Dire situations can lead to self-discovery. And sometimes soiled drawers.

Very few of us are born experts. The process of going from novice to expert can be long and arduous. At times, it can be difficult to determine where to begin. In video games, once you get past the basic questions of which button does what, the various ways to distance oneself from being a newbie can seem overwhelming. Just as writing sometimes needs to be taken one word at a time, and programming to one line of code after another, so to can gaming be broken down into more manageable aspects.

It’s a form of what’s called ‘deliberate practice’. We choose an aspect of our skill set and work it hard until it’s forged into something that will contribute to greater success. This is probably most prominent in any RPG you care to mention. If you want to find more loot, you need to practice picking locks. When I was playing World of Warcraft I found myself needing to improve on laying traps for crowd control or cooperating with a group without becoming flustered. You can be I will continue to work on those skills in Guild Wars 2, along with mastering the nuances of the classes one weapon at a time.

It’s not just limited to role-playing games, though. Even bare-bones shooters like Killing Floor lend themselves to this form of practice.

Killing Floor features a set of perks for each player. You can choose which perk you want when joining a server and between waves of specimens (‘zeds’). You can grind away at a particular perk until its maxed out, or you can get to a particular level and use that perk to earn some cash before switching to a problem area or something relatively untouched. For example, if you like being up close and personal, you can either get every tier of Berzerker or open up a long game by spending a few waves on that perk, then use the cash you earn to buy weapons for an underdeveloped perk such as Commando or Sharpshooter. The best part about Killing Floor is that some perks can be worked on even if they’re not your primary choice – healing teammates contributes to your Medic perk even if you’re running around as the Firebug.

I didn’t realize this particular form of practice had a formal name until I rekindled my interest in StarCraft 2 with the return of Day[9]’s Newbie Tuesday. He’d talked about a mental checklist before, but he also showed how focusing on a particular item on that list not only strengthens that item but also highlights other areas of weakness to be worked upon. I took this advice to heart and started playing again. I actually tried not to win and instead focus on one aspect of my play.

I won a few games anyway.

It’s as true for video games as it is for most of our endeavours: sometimes, in order to build ourselves up, we need to break ourselves down first.

A Writer’s To-Do List

Checklist

So last week’s ICFN was delayed. It’s still on hold. I’m waiting to hear back from third parties that were interested in conveying it to a different format. Awaiting correspondence always makes days or weekends feel longer, from responses to job postings to queries about Magic trades.

But while I was waiting I took a look at the various projects I’ve lined up for myself.

There are three things that go against me when I try to sit down and get my writing pants on: I’m always thinking of new ideas, I’m not terribly organized and I’m easily distracted. All it takes is a cat darting across the floor, a ringing phone or a stray thought on something awesome unrelated to the project at hand to force me to refocus my efforts. I do turn off HootSuite and other things when I’m actually writing, but that only addresses the distraction problem.

You can take a look at my desk, my kitchen sink or either basement I have stuff in (here in Lansdale or at the ancestral place in Allentown) as silent testament to my lack of organization and pack-rat nature. This also ties in to my ideas. New ones creep into my brain all the time. An action sequence, a bit of dialog, a new character in an old setting… this stuff floats in and out from time to time. It takes conscious effort to nail it all down. And once I do, I need to get it into some sort of organized sequence.

Obviously I want to finish things I’ve started before I begin anything new, so let’s get some priorities straight here. This is pertaining mostly to my own publishable (eventually) writing, not other projects I’ve taken on (the Vietnam manuscript) and the weekday drivel in this blog.

I feel I should finish Red Hood first. It’s the shortest piece, and with it my collection of mixed-myth stories reaches a total of five. Akuma (Japanese oni in a period slasher story), The Jovian Flight (Greek myth IN SPACE!), The Drifter’s Hand (Norse myth in the Old West) and Miss Weaver’s Lo Mein (Chinese myth as a modern romance) round out the rest. That may be enough for an anthology, but I’m uncertain. I may want to do a sixth story.

The rewrite of Citizen in the Wilds must come next. I’ve started outlining the new opening, and will track the appearances and growth of characters to ensure they’re consistent and sympathetic, two problems pointed out by at least one review on Book Country. The problem with the way it opened before was I was cramming too much exposition into the first few pages and not giving the characters enough time to develop and establish connections with each other and the reader – in other words, I opened too late. So I’m starting a bit earlier. Giving these people more breathing room. You know, before I kill most of them.

I have an idea for a Magic: the Gathering piece but as it may be nothing more than fan fiction and Wizards has better things to do than entertain the notions of a relatively unknown hack like myself (as opposed to known hacks like Robert Wintermute), I’ll try not to devote too much time to it.

Once I finish up with the other stuff I’ll go back to Cold Iron. I plan on taking this lean, mean and well-intentioned supernatural noir thing I threw together during my commutes of the last few months and putting it through the prescribed Wendig cycle of editing my shit. The Wendig cycle, by the way, has little to do with Wagner’s cycle. More whiskey and profanity, less large sopranos and Norse symbolism.

Meantime, the blog will keep the writing-wheels greased. More Westeros fiction for the Honor & Blood crowd. More flash fiction challenges. Reviews of movies, games and books. Ruminations on trying not to suck as a writer.

And Guild Wars 2 stuff, because that MMO looks pretty damn awesome, not to mention damn pretty.

Stay tuned. I may be down, but I ain’t licked yet.

One Of Those ‘Casuals’

Dice

I’ve been called a lot of things in my time when it comes to gaming. “Blithering idiot.” “Total bastard.” “Keyboard-turning skill-clicker.” And perhaps the most caustic of all: “mouth-breathing casual.”

Most of these terms come from my wife. Ours is a happy marriage.

Anyway, the last one is sticking with me because to some gamers, ‘casual’ is an extremely dirty word. It’s why the role-playing servers in World of Warcraft are looked down upon (well, that and the atrocious characters running around… here, feast your eyes). Folks who play Magic: the Gathering professionally are more keenly following the buzz on the upcoming Innistrad expansion than the news of a new duel deck featuring Venser and Koth. Sticking with 4th edition D&D rather than using Pathfinder or the old AD&D ruleset probably also marks me as one of those ‘casuals’.

Thinking about it, I’m pretty okay with that.

Gaming is a close runner-up behind writing in terms of favorite ways to spend my time. While I don’t burn a lot of lean tissue in a round or two of Team Fortress 2, I do engage my brain when coming up with refinements to a Commander deck, developing plotlines for a tabletop campaign or working on my macro skills in StarCraft 2. I get a lot of enjoyment out of these things, and I don’t want to lose sight of that by taking the hobby too seriously. I’d like to think I can get good enough at StarCraft 2 or the upcoming Guild Wars 2 to break into the e-sports scene, but it’s going to take a lot of practice before I get myself beyond the level of ‘casual’.

The thing about moving beyond being a casual gamer is that gaming, for the most part, is a rather expensive pastime. Take Magic, for example. To become competitive you need playsets of the most powerful cards available, and that requires a rather large monetary investment. Oh, and the cards you just dropped hundreds of dollars on? They won’t be useful in the very near future. Either the expansions they’re from will pass out of Standard’s ruleset or the card itself may get banned or restricted. You can trade a bit, sure; in fact I’ve started to do some myself since I can’t afford to keep buying singles. But the fact of the matter is that the competitive Magic scene will always be dominated by people who have more disposable income than you. No, thank you.

StarCraft 2 is more accessible in that you don’t need to buy anything other than the box the game comes in, and maybe an authenticator. The hurdle here is dedication and brain power, not cash. You can build your muscle memory and multitasking ability through practice alone, making it more a time investment than anything else. The occasional break for StarJeweled or Aiur Chef with a friend is fine, though, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You can’t take this stuff too seriously.

I think that’s why some people look down their noses at casuals like myself. I understand the mindset. Gaming is serious business. I used to look at it that way. I would get livid when wiping in a dungeon or getting the facial treatment from an Alliance rogue. It got to the point that my wife stopped playing with me. I was taking it too seriously. I started to fall into that trap again with StarCraft 2, so I took a break. Now that I’m back to it, I’m taking it more easily. I’m using multiplayer (2v2, 3v3) matches to practice and also replaying the single-player campaign on the highest difficulty, and while it gets me angry when things are difficult, I’m not destroying my keyboard or terrifying the cats. Because I know it’s just a game, I should be enjoying it instead of loathing it, and I don’t want to be the next Idra, doing things like ragequitting out of frustrating games I’m about to win.

I think, in the end, it’s more healthy for me to be a casual gamer making my way slowly towards pro-level skills than the kind of gamer who wishes so hard to be pro that they lose sight of all the fun they should be having. If that means I get made fun of on occasion because I like Commander so much or I don’t have the APM of a Korean demigod, so be it. My blood pressure will stay low, my wife will actually want to play with me and, most important of all, I’ll be enjoying the experience.

To me, casual seems like a pretty damn good thing to be.

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