This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Guild Wars 2.
"Oh look, everyone! Yahtzee's doing a review of a MMORPG again! Better put our safety goggles on because there's a lot of debris in a trainwreck. I look forward to when he complains about there being lots of grind in it like a man sending his gazpacho soup back to be warmed up."
Well, you realise I'm not opposed to MMORPGs as a concept, unlike JRPGs or ethnic cleansing. I think it's important that the people who are most willing to endlessly perform repetitive tasks to make a number climb higher for little obvious reward are all grouped together in one place so that they're ready for deployment on the day aliens invade and threaten to wipe out humanity if we don't do all their data entry for them. I also think it's important for people like me to play them now and again. It's like the zoo; there's no point in putting a bunch of hippos in a room if no-one ever comes and looks at them and thinks, "Man, I'm glad I'm not that fat."
I like playing by myself, a habit I probably picked up at middle school during my smelly phase. But sometimes I like to play a MMORPG so I can play by myself where everyone can see me. Guild Wars 2 was suggested to me as something worth checking out by people I sometimes pretend to respect by the usual argument that "No really, it's way better than WoW particularly in the story telling aspect apparently" which I suppose is arguably true because there doesn't seem to be a story at all.
The best I can get from a brief snatch of text on the back of the box is that the Elder Dragons have shown up (what is with all the dragon racism in fantasy games lately?) and this is in some way quote "threatening the world", and as calls to adventures go, it's like saying "fiscal conservative policy is threatening growth in the financial market". I might concede that it's a bit of a pisser but I'm not about to beat my ploughshare into a sword and go storm the gate.
I just wasn't clear on what my ultimate purpose was as a hero, which admittedly might be partially my fault, cause at the start you have to pick one of three driving motivations for your character that affect what story missions you get and I had to pick from the traditional murdered parents, the slightly less traditional kidnapped sister or a secret desire to join the circus and obviously I went straight for that one. So perhaps it's churlish of me to complain that I'm not feeling like the fucking Chosen One over here.
But then again, even for a MMORPG the quantity of inconsequential bullshit you're asked to do in the name of quests is a bit ridiculous. How distant that Elder Dragon business seems when you start off helping farmers fend off extremely localized problems, usually bandits whose hideouts they didn't have the presence of mind to build their farms further away from. Often not even that, they just get you to feed the cows and mow the lawn. Yes, jobs that a farmer might realistically give a random wandering yahoo, but I thought we were forging a legendary tale of fantasy!
The fact that I was a necromancer made it pretty funny though. I pictured the farmer's wife standing at the kitchen window watching me chase moles out of the vegetable garden by summoning shadow demons from the Stygian Pits to curse their very souls and then turning to her husband and saying "He does know we've got a spade he can use, right?" Again, picking the peasant background might have been a mistake cause I had to wonder at what point in my sleepy rural upbringing I opted to take up necromancy as a career. "Well, missed my chance to join the circus, guess I'll just have to fall back on the communing with the dark powers of the Nether realm thing!"
But like a ping pong ball being fired from a lady's gammon socket, the quests aren't as interesting as their delivery method. Rather than having you hunt exclamation marks through the friendly NPCs talking to the one guy who wants you to kill ten snuffle-ferrets and the one guy who wants you to suck nine out of his eleven extraneous cocks, Guild Wars 2 cuts out the middle man. The moment you enter the area, a brick with a to-do list typed to it is hurled at your face. "Kill snuffle-ferrets, fellate cocks," it might say. Then you just keep doing those things until the bar is filled then "Bing! Thank you, hero of the hour, here's a pile of experience and money, now piss off!" I kind of like this method since it means you're free to wander aimlessly around the world, leveling up just by tripping over stuff.
And speaking of cutting out the middle man, Guild Wars 2's attitude to forming parties is that the entire server is a party and everyone's invited! If I happen to be poking through an area four levels too high for me hoping to gank an unsuspecting random mob and survive long enough for the XP, I might stumble on five hundred players gang-banging some kind of elder god whereupon I'd leap into the fray, peck at his ankles for a few minutes with a cocktail stick and BAM! Experience and a chestful of legendary +37 cocktail sticks for me!
Another thing I didn't like about WoW was that by the time you got to level 60, abilities and quick-select bars would be all over the screen like handprints on the world's most spankable bum cheek and Guild Wars 2 also improves on that by giving you limited slots and a range of swapoutable abilities (what the hell kind of word was that?) tied to what weapon you're using and which skills you've bought. By swapping out builds and weapons, some classes could theoretically perform any role from healing to tanking to wanking.
Although the problem with that is that the skills you can buy can get a wee bit eclectic and situational, like a spell that gives you health based on how many conditions your target's got or a buff that turns nearby moths into jam, and once I picked out the small number of spells I was comfortable with, i.e. the ones that either healed me or spawned friendly monsters who could run off and get their faces hacked off instead of me, I had a growing pile of unused skill points I wouldn't spend on skills I didn't want, in turn rendering moot the random skill point challenges which would otherwise have been a neat idea.
But after all that, Guild Wars 2 shows some good design, better than WoW perhaps. Any MMORPG that convinces its population to co-operate without having to communicate with each other probably deserves some kind of medal, but where it lets itself down is in creating context. It really does resemble what would happen if 99% of the population were wandering adventurers; everyone's tripping over each other just to chase the foxes out of the chicken coops and even if an Elder Dragon did show up, it would barely have time to mess up one flower garden before getting dogpiled into haggis by every meathead within a ten mile radius.
It all seems so inconsequential. Building a character in WoW at least feels like you're on some kind of journey, this feels like more like being put out in a big meadow to chew on the grass, occasionally getting called back to the cowshed for a story mission to see how the milk's getting along. Tasty grass, mind.
No, actually, it's more like a theme park version of a fantasy RPG. All the kiddies are set loose on a little play area to have their designated turn hitting an animatronic centaur with padded bats while a sourfaced carnie half-heartedly supervises. Still, no subscription fees, so at least it's not like the WoW tent next door where the bloke in the bag check keeps nicking peoples' credit cards.
Didn't see many guilds around either: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
An earlier draft of this review replaced "Gazpacho" with "Vichyssoise" but my nose would start bleeding every time I tried pronouncing it
The world's second most spankable butt cheek