April Fools’ Day gags on the internet are normally tired affairs that elicit a groan rather than a chuckle, but every now and then something truly inspired happens that takes on a life of its own. Remember the Tauntaun sleeping bag? Once people saw that joke, all they could do was think about how cool it would be to actually sleep in one and the pranksters were forced to get it made to sell it to eager little Luke Skywalkers.
The best thing to come out of the most recent April Fools’ Day was Guild Wars 2’s Super Adventure Box event. This isn’t some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag. It’s a full event mission with new graphics and level design all made to resemble a goofball 16-bit game. The joke commerical was pretty aces too.
Guild Wars 2 is continuing the old-school love by releasing a free version of the side-scrolling game in the commerical! Rytlock’s Critter Rampage is a bite-sized chunk of silliness made real. Have at it!
Today’s update to Guild Wars 2 adds a whole mess of new content, including a revised World vs World system for its massive battles. Furthermore, ArenaNet has officially eliminated culling, the technique they used to get so many characters onscreen in PvP battles without bringing everyone’s framerate down. They basically cheated by just not drawing some of the characters. Which works, but then you can’t see who you’re attacking or — worse — who’s attacking you. It’s like a random invisibility spell for characters who aren’t even thieves!
Today, culling is gone. It’s been replaced with, well…I don’t know what it’s been replace with. Aggressive LOD technology? Higher system requirements? Faerie magicks? Whatever the solution, culling is the best thing removed from Guild Wars 2 since bots!
…we’ll make improvements to culling. We recently ran small tests on Live to help us move towards eliminating as much culling from [World vs World multiplayer] as possible. The results have been promising, and we have a number of additional culling features in development. If all goes well, our hope is 2013 is the year culling ceases to exist, or is as minimal as possible in the WvW experience.
Culling is Guild Wars’ technical trick to make it such an attractive world. The idea is that when you have a whole mess of characters on screen, the game makes a judgment call about which characters to not show you (i.e. cull) so that you can maintain an acceptable framerate. In theory, this seems like a great idea. But in practice, this often means characters right in front of you are invisible, doing things most games don’t let invisible characters do. Such as attacking you. The problem is particularly pronounced when it’s most important to see everyone, namely during crowded battles when you should be carefully picking out targets. That’s hard to do when you can’t see the target.
Johnson’s post also notes Guild Wars 2 has sold three million copies. Three million! If you were to lay those copies out end to end, you would be at a complete and utter loss when it came to the copies that were downloaded. It was so much simpler to lay things end to end before digital distribution.
(Screenshot from this post at Guild Wars 2 Junkies.)
I’m not sure that any of these games would have made my top ten, but I never got around to trying the Walking Dead series, Mark of the Ninja, Hitman: Absolution, Guardians of Middle Earth, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Natural Selection 2, Last Story, Tokyo Jungle, Yakuza: Dead Souls, or Spec Ops: The Line. So, mea culpa maxima.
But of the games I did play, here are my favorites for the year.
Last year, Rift stuck Christmas decorations all over the place, including presents and Christmas trees out in the open world. It was cute if you’re into the whole “let’s drizzle holiday themes over everything” approach. I don’t recall if there was some sort of Rift fiction about these Christmas trees and presents. I don’t recall much about Rift’s fiction at any rate. And I haven’t played World of Warcraft enough to know whether the winter snowball fights and presents and whatnot have some sort of unique place in Azeroth other than “just because”. I imagine DC Universe will have Christmas in Gotham and Metropolis because Christmas actually exists in the real Gotham and Metropolis.
But I like how ArenaNet’s fictional holidays — which I believe have been carried over from the original Guild Wars — feel like they’ve bubbled up from inside the world of Guild Wars rather than being imposed from the outside simply because of the real world. First there was the Mad King for Halloween, and now there’s the asura Tixx in a massive golem-shaped zeppelin, which will visit various cities before coming to rest at Lion’s Arch. Wintersday — not Christmas, mind you! — starts this weekend. Check out the schedule here, with dates and places for the zeppelin’s tour.
Last weekend, Guild Wars 2 tried something new with a one-time event that was variously spectacular, clever, and disastrous.
I have the utmost respect for how ArenaNet puts drama, action, and storytelling into its open worlds. But [last weekend’s] battles against the karka on Southsun Shoals were a misbegotten spectacle of epic misproportion. I was there for four hours on Sunday afternoon, and it was four of the worst hours I’ve spent in Guild Wars 2 thus far, because I knew what ArenaNet was trying to do. I could tell how it was supposed to go, and so I was keenly aware of how it wasn’t going.
The first step in doing dungeons is wanting to do dungeons. Peruse the merchants lined up under the bright blue awning at Fort Marriner, trading for trophies you’ll earn in any given dungeon. Each merchant has armor relevant at the level when the dungeon unlocks. Furthermore, they also sell weapons and armor that you can only use at level 80, called exotics. This is a significant part of the endgame. Go ahead and check the stats. Furthermore, feel free to try on the armor (right click and then select “preview”). Pretty nifty, huh? Now try to tell me you don’t care about doing dungeons.
I’m an MMO dilettante. I’ve played a lot of them. But I can count on one hand the number of MMOs I’ve played in which I’ve leveled a character to a number higher than my age. Make of that what you will. And I would still have my thumb, pinky, and ring finger left over. The point is that I wasn’t sure what to expect in Guild Wars 2 after the ultimate ding.
There isn’t any more ceremony when you hit level 80 than when you hit level 2. In fact, there’s more ceremony when you hit level 2 because at that point the game is still keen to explain stuff. But by level 80, it knows you’ve pretty much figured everything out. So you’re liable to not even notice when you hit level 80. Nothing changes. You don’t look any different. No angels sing hosannas. You don’t ascend to demigodhood. Just another splashy light effect, no different from the effect you’ve seen 79 other times.
When it happened to me, I was busy clearing out the icy waters of Frostgorge Sound, diving underneath one of those majestic kodan settlements that’s half iceberg, half massive sailing ship. Me and another player, a level 79 guardian named Quite Eyes, had hooked up in that way Guild Wars 2 players hook up. We were just tagging along with one another, helping each other out, neither of us leading, neither of us following, one of us eventually inviting the other into a party even though it’s not at all necessary. Remarkably enough, we both hit level 80 from killing a veteran undersea assassin called a largo. We swam to shore and stood there at the edge of the sea.
We looked out over the water. I imagined we were catching our breath. I imagined our breath steaming in the cold. For all I know he was dinking around in his inventory with whatever bone fragments or scales he’d collected. But in those places in an MMO where my imagination fills the gaps in the actual game, we were like two guys who’d just finished a marathon or reached a peak at the same time.
He dove back in the water after a moment, but I excused myself.
Thanks for the party, I said. It was one to remember.
Most MMOs punish you when you stop playing, even if it’s inadvertently. Not so with Guild Wars 2, a rare MMO that doesn’t mind if you want to take some time off to see other games. Go ahead and take a break. Guild Wars is cool with that.
The hunter Gareth makes dolyak jerky, but he’s also a single father. His wife is away making her legacy. Gareth insists she’ll be home one day with scars, stories, and trophies. The implication is that something darker has happened and he isn’t ready to acknowledge it, but the point is that he’s got his hands full watching his three kids. The last stranger he enlisted to help lost his right foot. They found it on the roof a week later. Adventures in babysitting.
I just started a weekly Guild Wars 2 column at Gamespy, because lord knows, I haven’t talked enough about my latest favorite game of all time. This week, how Guild Wars 2 is like Helen Hunt: it makes me want to be a better man.
Until proven otherwise, every avatar in other MMOs is potentially hiding a shrill socially awkward loser getting Doritos on his keyboard who a) sucks at the game, b) is good because he plays way too much, and/or c) is every bit as much a misanthropic a-hole as I am. Fine, I’ll be in your pick-up group, but only because I need this dungeon.
But every avatar in Guild Wars 2 is a confederate.
One of my most common reactions while playing Guild Wars 2 is, “Well, heck, why didn’t games do it like this before?” There are all sorts of answers to that question, including the fact that some games did do it like this before (the MMO aficionado might recognize elements of Dark Age of Camelot, Rift, Eve Online, and Guild Wars 1). But the main answer is that these kinds of games have been in thrall to World of Warcraft’s success, which in turn is in thrall to it’s own launch date. Blizzard’s formula was so successful so quickly and so lucratively and for so long that it cast a tall foreboding shadow on an entire genre, freezing it in the year 2004. This was the way you do it if you want to be big and successful. This is the way it was.