Over the years I’ve used this blog to try and work out what the hell I want from a game. I’ve ranted about systems that I hate, raved about those I love. I’ve condemned mechanics I can’t wrangle, commended those I can. I’ve groaned about ideas I hate, gushed over those I don’t. Ultimately I’ve been guilty of being an armchair dev and backseat world builder, teetering atop my own rickety soapbox whilst I fill the air with the sound of my own ill-informed droning and whining about ‘the perfect game for me’.
I see no reason for this to change, do you?
Good. Buckle up as I once more bellow impotently into the void and try in vain to describe just what the bloody hell I want from a game.
First off though, you may ask why am I covering this old ground again? I mean, wasn’t all that waffling on about world building in 2014 enough? Didn’t all the musing in 2015 lead me to some form of Nirvana? Well, in a word, no. In more than a word; no because a) nothing has changed, b) I still haven’t found what I’m after, c) I’m not even sure I know what I’m after, d) even if I do I don’t know if it exists or can exist.
I’m not sure anyone can help me with the first two of those but at least I can try and make sense of what I’m actually looking for in a game, even if the result is to confirm to me that it doesn’t actually exist and won’t until extremely clever computers exist. Still, I won’t know until I try so here goes.
A Manageable Illusion…
I always thought I was looking for open, but given that I had totally open in Second Life and hugely open in Elite Dangerous and I have left them as both left me bored trying to make my own entertainment I am pretty sure I don’t really want an open world.
Equally I’m not all that enthralled by closed worlds. The list of games I have never finished is staggering and shows me that although I like the initial thrill of a new game I get bored and stop playing. From single player games like BioShock to MMOs like LOTRO & Guild Wars 2 I simply never complete the story arcs and never feel bad about it, after all I can always find out what happens from Wikipedia and YouTube. From this I am pretty sure I’m not after some huge storyline that takes me all over a grand world.
So maybe I’m looking for a small but highly detailed world, one that feels a bigger part of something alive and connected. A manageable illusion of vast openness. So far Guild Wars 2 has come closest with its limited Tyria play area although my recent brush with Elder Scrolls Online has shown me another version of this in Tamriel. Both worlds feel similar to the worlds I drew as a kid hooked on playing Tunnels and Trolls. Both are manageable slices of a much larger world, worlds in which I think I can have an effect.
Big fish, little fish…
There was a video released by Arenanet prior to GW2’s launch, part of its manifesto, that talked about your effect on the world. People in villages you saved would remember you, things you did would impact on the world, and ultimately you and your actions would matter. Unfortunately, like so many of their early claims, this never came to be. In the same way that choosing your story path at the start of the game makes no real difference to your path through the game, saving a village in Tyria has no effect on your character. At the same time I’m railroaded into following a career path I wouldn’t take in any game, that of ultimate hero and saviour of all. So on one hand I can save a village and never be remembered whilst on the other I somehow become the Pact Commander in charge of the greatest army ever assembled. I’m both a minnow and an orca when what I’d rather be is a basking shark, or a seal, or a gull, or a… well you get the picture. My brain simply can not resolve being the most important person alive and also the least, especially when I don’t want to be either.
In the game I want to play I want to choose my own path and I want it to have consequences. I want to be remembered for saving that village, dammit! If, and this is a big if, I want to fight in the army I want to choose how instead of being artificially (and through no more skill of my own than key clicking and wiki-reading) promoted to Commander in Bloody Chief.
Career Advice 101…
Something I have come to like better in ESO than GW2 is the fact you can be anything in the former. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Engineer class in GW2 but I’d rather like to play a mash-up of an engineer, a thief, and a Mesmer but I can’t. In real life I’m doing a job that combines lots of different skills and also holding down family & social lives that involve others. In all the time no one has said to me that I can only use a limited set of skills from one aspect of my life. Games have conditioned me to accept this limitation in their worlds and I’m rather sick of it.
The flip side to this is Elite Dangerous’ ‘do what you want’ ethos. Fancy being a trader? Fine! Want to try out being a pirate now? Also fine! Bounty Hunter? Miner? Assassin? All fine, do what you want! Except who the hell actually does that without consequence? Who joins the peace-keeping, law-enforcing Navy only to then be a trader for a week and then a bounty hunter and then a pirate and then back to the Navy?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily looking for a game I can be a pirate in as I enjoy playing the hero far too much, but rather I’m looking for a game where I can use all of the skills I want to use to follow the path I want to follow without artificial barriers blocking me.
Never a dull moment…
Do you know what raises a good games master above the crowed of OK ones? Adaptability. A good GM will see how an adventure is going and adapt to keep the energy flowing. A good GM will be able to see an opportunity to create a story out of thin air and run with it. An OK GM just sticks with a pre-planned path and never veers off. This is currently my biggest bugbear with GW2. Unless there is a Living World story out (and they are few and far between) there are no stories in the game. Sure there are dynamic events, although these have proved hard to maintain, update and add to so they offer just repeating loops of the same thing. Yes there are dungeons and fractals and puzzles throughout the world but again they are endlessly repeating fights.
What I’m looking for is story everywhere, not just in one area. After all, we know that [insert name of current Living World threat here] isn’t the only threat to Tyria but it’s the only one we can concentrate on and the only one we are allowed to participate in. Very much like the fact I’m forced to be the Pact Commander, I resent the fact I’m forced to deal with X dragon threat when what I want to be doing is helping the Seraph investigate a burnt out farm, or the Lionguard retake Claw Island, or the Priory recover Orrin artefacts, or the Nolan Village council find a lost cub in the catacombs. Anything and everything other than fight another bloody dragon. Or rather, than only be able to fight another bloody dragon.
One aspect I really can’t fault Arenanet and Guild Wars 2 for, except for the fact they have ruined every other game for me going forward, is the focus on ensuring other players are not seen as the enemy but rather as friends who can help out. This has, so far, been my biggest stumbling block in ESO with its non-instanced nodes, shared XP for kills, and lack of ‘down levelling’. In GW2 I will tell people if I see a node, I look forward to people diving into a fight with me, and I never feel hugely over-powered if I’m in a lower level zone with lower-level friends. GW2 makes me want to play with people whereas all the other games I’ve played have either been single players games (Borderlands, BioShock) or MMOs that feel like they are (LOTRO, ESO). I can only really feel at home with a game that is as inclusive and other-player-friendly as GW2.
Previous posts in this ‘series’ have talked about how I wanted the world of GW2 to feel more alive with cities that have daily cycles, working shops, player housing, and an assortment of festivals and celebrations. I don’t think this post is really any different in that what I’m looking for is Guild Wars but alive and living. I want freedom to follow my own storylines in my own way and with my own character built in my own way but with other people.
I have a (pipe) dream that I log into GW2 and walk out of my house in Divinities Reach right into a night time parade for a celebration of the gods complete with dancing and singing and food. I move through the crowds and contact any guild mates who are online whilst at the same time checking the local newspaper. There is a report of a farm burnt out south of Shaemoor and the family have vanished so I suggest to the guildies who are on that we go and take a look, especially as the Seraph are offering a small reward for details. Three of us meet at the pub in Shaemoor and to the outside observer it is impossible to tell what class we are. We set off to the farm and start an evening of investigation, puzzling, jumping, and fighting that leads us back to a hidden bandit cell in the city and a fight that scales up as people jump into help. The next night we do it all again but this time heading out to the Shiverpeaks to uncover an ancient book that was thought lost and can teach one of us a key new skill, if only we can get past the Dredge army that have camped on top of the location ahead of an attack on a large Norn homestead.
Now that is a game I’d want to play more of for the sake of playing it rather than logging into to complete my dailies but I suspect I’m asking for the moon on a stick…