Guild Wars 2; No Man’s Sky; Travelers on Netflix

Posted by on Aug 14, 2017 in Guild Wars 2, No Man's Sky, TV and Streaming

I tried the Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire open access weekend a little bit, and I’m pleased that ANet is still riding high when it comes to their design and art direction. I completed the initial intro, got the raptor mount made available for the test, and then just kind of dicked around for a while. I didn’t go nuts with exploration since I’ll be back to it when the xpac launches later in the year. I’ve still got almost the entire Season 3 content to complete, and the last episode of Season 2 as well.

Speaking of which, I did return to S2, and have been having some concerning issues completing requirements. I’m not sure if it’s a case of my class not being the best option for the job (which seems rather silly considering the content is designed to be soloed) or if my perchance for not eating, breathing, and sleeping the mechanics of my class, the game, and the encounter is finally catching up to me. I’ve learned to carry a gear repair canister (or 16) with me during these, because “continue from checkpoint” seems to just insta-rez me where I fell, allowing me to continue without much of a setback.

In other news, the latest patch for No Man’s Sky was released last week to whispered fanfare. NMS is a poster child for many things, with most of them being a warning on the pitfalls of hype.

Me, I like to use it as an example of why we shouldn’t ever throw a title so far under the bus that we can’t retrieve it later. NMS was probably one of the most high-profile cases of overpromising and under-delivering meets pinning hopes and dreams on a product by filling in the blanks that the games industry has ever produced. A lot of people wanted a game where they could meet up with friends and explore the galaxy together, but there wasn’t even a hint of that feature in the original game. In the end it turned out that there was no real reason to do anything that NMS was asking us to do; meanwhile, people wanted a game that would at least allow them some level of permanence so that they could at least leave a footprint that maybe some other player could find, although beyond that I believe that the overarching dream was to have a game in which players could work together to make their own interstellar empires despite the unfathomable void between star systems, like the most massive survivalbox game ever created.

There have been…three patches, I think…each of which has added more “stuff” to NMS. Players can now build bases on planets. Players can buy enormous freighters. We can also terraform the landscape in true voxel fashion (remember when voxels were in fashion?). And the latest patch adds in what Hello Games claims is the first step towards actual multiplayer modes.

Hello got a lot of shit for the release of NMS — much of it rightfully so — but so many people cling to their narrowly-focused opinions of the launch so tightly that they are unable and unwilling to walk back any statements in the face of the fact that Hello is trying to make right. There’s no doubt that a game should play the way it says it plays on the box when it launches, and there’s no doubt that consumers should hold companies accountable for dropping that ball, but it should be done in the service of letting the company know that better is expected of them. Crucifying a company is the reason why we can’t have nice things and the surest way to ensure that we’ll never get nice things. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of life with the Internet that the possibility of patches means never having to say “oops!” when a product is released, but the only “shame on you” that can be said in a situation when a company tries to make good after a public humiliation is on those who refuse to give the company another shot.

And in lighter news, I plowed through several more episodes of Travelers on Netflix this weekend. Really, this show was always in my recommended viewing list but I always glossed over it because it sounded rather formulaic: a group of folks from the future return to the past to right a cataclysmic wrong. It wasn’t so long ago that network TV was pumping out time travel series, pretty much all of which have fallen off the face of the earth. We’ve had our 12 Monkeys and our Looper and the granddaddy Terminator movies (which have fallen on hard times). Is there a way to make “future people stop humanity from fucking itself sideways?” interesting again?

Hell yes. In Travelers we slowly learn the specifics of the future and why people need to return to the past but I won’t go into them here as they’re kind of spoilery. Rather than send actual people back in time, the conceit here is that the “travelers” project their consciousness into 21st-century humans at the time of death of the host — whether that’s from natural causes, accidents, or suicide. There are many traveler teams, and all are (supposedly) working on different, compartmentalized aspects of setting up a timeline that will hopefully repair the future situation. As you might imagine, this doesn’t come with accepted complications. Not only do the travelers have to work on their mission objectives within a more “primitive” culture, but they also have to continue the lives of those that they have come to inhabit: an FBI agent with a wife, a new mother with an abusive ex-husband, a heroin addict, a high-school football star, and a mentally disabled woman. Changes to this “protocol” are inevitable as strangers try and pick up where their hosts left off, but there are less subtle modifications that are impossible to circumvent: the mentally disabled woman is now a highly articulate doctor, and the high-school quarterback is now super-focused on his academic success. In the other direction, there’s the looming question as to whether or not the body of the heroin addict is going to cost the team a crucial member.

The creepy part, IMO, is that the future is vague and that the traveler project is so finely tuned, heightening the idea that things are so bad for humanity that legions of people are giving over their lives to specialize to insane degrees so they can perform their duties in the past. Each team member has a role: the leader, the tactician, the medic, the engineer, and the historian. A team is meant to operate in isolation, so they need to protect themselves (tactician) which may lead to questionable injuries (medic) while they use their “future knowledge” to secure resources (historian) and build the tools necessary to achieve mission objectives (engineer).

The show doesn’t turn hokey for a second, not even when they do allude to the conditions of the future. Being a sci-fi show I think that their traveler’s nature is, of course, the most interesting part of the series, but like Battlestar Galactica the technology and “sci-fi-ness” of it takes a back seat to remind us that no matter the setting, all dramas are human dramas, whether they take place in the 21st century or in the future.

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The Best Worst Zone in Guild Wars 2

Posted by on Aug 3, 2017 in Guild Wars 2

Sorry about the title…this is not a discussion about all of the zones in Guild Wars 2 in listicle form, but rather a backhanded compliment to ANet for their zone design in the game’s first major expansion Heart of Thorns. 

When the next expansion Path of Fire was announced it seemed to spark a review of HoT among many in my circles who had played it (and questions from those who hadn’t and whether they’d need it for PoF, the answer to which is “no”). HoT continued the “dragons are bad” theme of the base game by focusing on Mordremoth, a force of nature who had been corrupting the Sylvari and others to do bad shit across Tyria (I’m not big on specifics).

Like most expansions, HoT introduced a new area. The “Heart of Maguuma”, a mostly jungle-themed zone, is a level 80 zone and because the expansion didn’t raise the level cap, the primary motivator to Do Stuff(tm) is mastery levels. Here, you choose which path you want your XP to work towards, hitting milestones that grant you abilities that were initially specific to the HoT regions, like being able to speak to the natives or read inscriptions in dormant temples. The first mastery you are pushed toward is gliding…because you need it to traverse all of the zones in the expansion.

Getting around the jungle is a royal pain in the ass. Mordremoth’s influence has caused a whole lot of wild growth, so the zones are mostly masses of plateaus blocked and bridged by trees and massive vines cutting through what were ancient buildings before the invasion turned them into rubble. The map, therefore, becomes almost useless as PoI that you might be interested in visiting which appear to be only a few short steps away are actually a few short steps and several levels above or below you with no easy way to get to. Gliding helps; you can tap the SPACE bar while jumping or falling to deploy the glider, but that’s only good for a short time, and only helps to get to a point below you (unless you can use updrafts). In order to get higher, you need to unlock additional mastery levels which allow you to use bouncing mushrooms. If you’re really good (or patient), you might be able to find some vines to run along to get yourself into a position where using the glider is an option.

Despite the irritation that these new zones offer, they are some of the most amazingly designed zones in MMO history (in my opinion). The fact that players are frustrated by the difficulty of simply getting around means that the design compliments the narrative: Mordremoth isn’t interested in letting the players and their allies have an easy go of it. The zones are meant to be out of control with overgrowth, and either mindlessly uncaring or intelligently maddening as a means to literally frustrate the players. The details in each zone are such that not only is it frequently difficult to figure out how to get to a PoI but it’s also difficult to get one’s bearings in almost any situation since each area is almost universally devoid of meaningful landmarks. I suspect that the design was intended to invoke the European’s difficult initial forays into places like the Amazon jungle, and in that I consider ANet to have succeeded in spectacular fashion: I really fucking hate the Heart of Maguuma, but we have a job to do, and noping our way back out to familiar zones isn’t an option.

The good news is that at least some of the zones of Elonia featured in the PoF expansion are deserts, last seen in Guild Wars: Nightfall and cast in a distinctly ancient North African theme. From the limited videos and screens that I’ve seen, it looks like we’ll be trading in the oppressively humid tangles of the jungle for the oppressively dry heat of an open and windswept desert. Despite the lack of opportunity for detail inherent in what is essentially an ocean of sand, I fully expect that the zone designers at ANet will continue to prove that they are top-shelf in visual design, and I’m looking forward to getting back into GW2 in the run up to the expansion’s release on September 22nd.

 

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