The Beautiful World Of Tyria (Guild Wars 2 Screenshots)

In my short time playing Guild Wars 2, during the beta and recent stress test, I’ve gotten into a habit of taking screenshots.  I’ve taken more screenshots in my short time playing Guild Wars 2 than in most other games combined.  The world of Tyria, with its numerous gorgeous sites, just begs to have pictures taken of it.

This week, I thought I’d share a few of those screenshots.  Below you’ll find my ten best from yesterday during the short stress test.  If you want to see a few more check out my post on exploration from last week.

The Lion’s Arch loading screen.

Three Asura gates leading to World vs World in Lion’s Arch.

An overlook on a bridge in Lion’s Arch.

The lion statue located in the center of Lion’s Arch.

Asura gates in Lion’s Arch leading to various parts of Tyria.

Approaching a World vs World keep in the Eternal Battlegrounds.

A view from atop some rocks near the World vs World keep pictured above.

A World vs World vista of the same keep pictured above.

The view from the actual vista point of the above keep vista in World vs World.

A vista of a tower in World vs World.

Exploring The Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get my hands on a beta key for the final Guild Wars 2 beta weekend.  I have to say, I was very impressed.  I had a lot of fun exploring the world and getting a feel for the game.  And the feel I got was one of exploration.

Guild Wars 2

Everything in Guild Wars 2 seems to be structured for exploring.  The world is filled with things to do.  Nothing shows this more than the way quests are setup.  In Guild Wars 2 you don’t get a quest from some static NPC who sends you on errands.  Instead, you explore the world, and as you explore you bump into quests along the way.  These quest are marked on your map as hearts and require no prerequisites.  They are open to any that wander into the area.  You don’t even need to accept them, instead a small notification of what to do appears in the corner of your screen and you can either do the objective or ignore it and move on.

For the first time in an MMO I wasn’t juggling quests in a journal, or running around collecting a task list from people with magic exclamation points floating above their heads.  Quest completion happened organically and naturally as I ran across them while exploring.  In the rare event I ran out of known heart quests to complete, I’d just pick a section of the map I hadn’t yet explored and trek off into the unknown to find more content.

Even as you traverse between known heart quests you might be in for a surprise along the way.  Periodically, semi-random events occur in your vicinity that you may join in on.  Like heart quests, you can ignore them if you wish, but it’s fun  to join in and experience something new.  These events help keep things fresh, even in areas you’ve traveled through before.

The Pale Tree vista in The Grove

Beyond quests, Guild Wars 2 helps give you more variety with challenges and vistas.  Challenges are what they sound like, small challenges to complete.  For completing them you gain a skill point which can be used to unlock better skills.  Vistas on the other hand are eye candy, very pretty eye candy.  They usually consist of climbing and platforming in order to reach a vista point.  Once activated, a vista point shows a short video showcasing the surrounding area.  There’s a small experience reward earned toward your next character level, but the sightseeing can be all the reward you need.  Both challenges and vistas are oriented toward exploring, enticing you to go out of your way to experience them.

Finally, there’s the glue that holds the whole thing together, your personal story.  Your personal story is the only set of traditional quests that I saw in the game.  Essentially one long quest chain, your personal story helps point you to areas that you should explore.  If you only did your personal story, ignoring all other content, you’d quickly find that it’s too hard for your level.  Instead, what I ended up doing is what I believe you’re supposed to do.  On the way to each new part of my personal story I did all the heart quests and events I ran into.  Playing this way I was able to always be the appropriate level for the current section of my personal story while also getting the variety of doing other activities.

A world vs world vista

It was a wonderful feeling just to explore the world and complete whatever I happened to run across.  Even the player vs player mode World vs World (WvW) was somewhat structured this way.  It took a little more work to determine where I was needed in order to help my fellow players, but even WvW is filled with heart quests, events, vistas, and challenges.  This is where I spent most of the last day of beta, wandering around WvW, helping siege and defend key positions, each with their own player triggered and player driven events.  I didn’t want to stop.

With how much fun I had during my short time exploring Guild Wars 2, I can’t wait to be able to explore it more upon release.  And, with no subscription fee, I can see myself playing this game off and on for years to come.

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series

What started as a comic book, and more recently a show, has been adapted to the media of video games.  The Walking Dead is an action adventure game by the developer Telltale Games.  What they have created is, in my opinion, one of the best adventure games you’ll ever play with a story that will keep you entertained from start to finish.

The Walking Dead

In The Walking Dead you play as Lee Everett, a man convicted of killing his wife.  The story starts in a police car as a chatty officer drives Lee to jail.  The game quickly acclimatizes the player to the game’s controls and reveals a few details about the protagonist before the car crashes and Lee is thrown into the dangerous world of a zombie apocalypse.  After awaking from the crash, and surviving his first few zombies, he meets Clementine, a young girl who lost her parents.  Everett takes her in and, together, the story continues on.

For an adventure game, the pacing is quick and dirty.  The feel you get as you’re playing is that of split second decisions and sometime even panic.  Almost every choice is timed, from conversations, to panicked zombie encounters.  It’s all structured to keep you on your feet and force you to make snap decisions.  Decisions which matter.

That’s where this game shines, the decisions.  While each decision may not affect the story in massive plot determining ways, they do follow you throughout your journey.  And most of these decisions aren’t black and white.  Instead, they are morally gray, and while you can stay morally clean for awhile, at some point you will need to get your hands dirty.  This is where Clementine comes in.  She helps serve as a moral compass, a harsh world seen through the naive eyes of a child, and sometimes it can be hard to explain to her why you needed to do what you did.  In videogames, when a character is put into your charge, it’s rare that they become anything more than an annoyance.  You will care about Clementine, I know it didn’t take long for me to grow to like her.

Lee and Clementine

While many decisions are moral, some are just error prone.  Near the end of episode 2 I failed a decision that had nothing to do with morality and every to do with just failing what I was trying to accomplish.  And when I failed, the game didn’t show me a game over screen, it just moved on, leaving me to deal with the consequences down the road.

These consequences come from of each of your decisions, customizing your story in very personal ways.  Characters will remember if you saved them at an earlier point, or if you let their family members get eaten.  They remember if you badmouthed them, or if you supported a decision they make.  Even things said in benign conversations can crop up later on.  In my play through I had a grumpy old man attempt to leave me for dead because I’d argued with him earlier, only to be saved moments later by a guy who’s son I’d saved.  It’s these moments that, though they might not alter the big picture, make the story feel very personal to you.

In the end, with The Walking Dead, Telltale Games has created a game where everyone will know the same plot points, but everyone will also experience a completely different story.

The Universe of Battletech

I’ve talked before about world building, specifically within the universe of Tribes.  World building is extremely important and the more you work on the world that your characters inhabit, the better. While some world designers only go far enough in their world building to create what’s needed, others go well beyond the call of duty in order to created a rich, elaborate depth.  One very good example where this is the case is the universe of Battletech.

Two Mad Cat Battlemechs

For those that are unfamiliar with the tabletop game Battletech, here’s the basics.  In Battletech, you pit your army and wits against your opponent’s.  Like many tabletop games you move small models, called miniatures, around on a battlefield grid.  What sets Battletech apart from other war games is that your army consists of huge lumbering war machines called Battlemechs, or Mechs for short, piloted by MechWarriors.  These great monstrous machines are the ultimate combat unit, raining destruction in their wake in the form of lasers, long range missiles (LRMs), autocannons (ACs), and particle projection cannons (PPCs).

The creators of Battletech could have stopped at this point with the lore.  All you really need to know is that two sides are at war and they use Mechs to fight each other.  Thankfully, this doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of the Battletech universe.  To start off, they have a deep history reaching back centuries before the era in which the tabletop game is set.  History about the migration away from terra, and the settling of other planets.  There’s a whole line of events about what has happened in the Inner Sphere, including all the factions, territories, and wars that have rages over the centuries.  Then, there’s the Clans, a group of MechWarriors who fractured away from the Star League, a doom alliance of the Inner Sphere houses, and created their own Clan order in a distant star system.  Later, the Clans would return in the Clan Invasion, or as the Clans called it Operation Revival.

All of this is still just scratching the surface and I’d need pages to go into any real depth.  There’s so much history and depth that Battletech has even spawned a series of Battletech novels, each one pulling from known Battletech history and adding more of its own.  Each of the rulebooks is also filled with short stories between their sections and if you want even more gritty details of the history there’s a whole series of Historicals that can be purchased and read.

The Battletech TechManual

While a historical background is fantastic, my favorite part of the Battletech universe is the technical information.  While the Total Warfare rulebook gives you a small taste of a few technical details, the real treat is the TechManual.  This book, while providing construction rules for the game itself, is filled with in universe descriptions of all the technology used by all sides.  From how Battlemechs operate to the operation of the various weaponry, it’s packed to the brim with lore for technology geeks like me.  As an added bonus, the Technical Readouts, which provide new units to play with, have information on the history and technical details of each unit they offer.

The Battletech universe tends to draw enthusiasts in and surround them with elaborate lore.  Thanks in part to this deep rich lore, the Battletech universe has managed to move beyond being just a tabletop game.  Everything from videogames to novels, to even an RPG, has come out of the universe that Battletech has created.  I can’t help but think that it can only get bigger.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to read the TechManual.

The Four Act Play of Diablo 3

This last Tuesday I finished Diablo 3 on normal difficulty.  It took me sixteen hours and I had a blast.  I’ve seen a lot of critiques of the gameplay and game itself around the net.  I figure if you want to read about the gameplay aspects of Diablo 3, you have a plethora of blog posts and reviews to choose from.  So, instead of going into gameplay, let’s talk about story.

Act I

The Diablo 3 story is split into acts, giving it almost a play quality.  Each act has its own unique setting and atmosphere that sets it apart from the other acts.  This somewhat helps to break up the feel of the game and make otherwise continuous dungeon crawling stay fresh longer.  Sprinkled throughout each act are minor cutscenes, with major cutscenes placed between the acts.  These cutscenes, along with short in-game conversations between characters, help advance the story.

The story arc itself is close to being well paced, but leans toward slow.  Throughout the acts the story slowly builds until it reaches its peak at the end of Act III.  It is then quickly and succinctly wrapped up in Act IV.  I will admit that by the end of Act III, I was glad it was almost over.  This slower pacing was mainly due to quest dungeons taking awhile to fight through, and with the plot points mostly between the quests, plot advancement can feel as few and far between.  It probably didn’t help that I was going out of my way to complete every side dungeon I found.  It’s possibly that the pacing feels better if you only stick with the main quests.

Diablo III Opening Cinematic

I’ve seen some people describe Diablo 3 as not being your story, but an interactive movie.  While it is most definitely not your story, as things happen a certain way no matter what you do, I don’t see it as a movie, but instead, as a play.  When I think of movies, I think of fancy camera angles and flashy effects.  It’s a look through a window into another world, framed exactly as the director wants it to be seen.  Except for cutscenes, there are no fancy camera angles or fast motion in Diablo 3, just characters delivering there lines and playing their parts.  The game is not a window that the audience looks through, controlled as a director sees fit.  It’s a stage with backdrops and sets where the actors perform their play, and every audience member sees things from a slightly different perspective.

The closest Diablo 3 gets to being a movie is with its cutscenes.  The major cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game, and between each act, are done in gorgeously prerendered 3D.  Each of these cutscenes is its own mini movie, and are filled with flashy, but not overdone, special effects, and epic fights scenes.  The smaller cutscenes, usually placed throughout an act and narrated by your player character, are done in the style of an ancient scroll with faded paper backgrounds and ink drawings.

Wizard Opening Cinematic

One final small touch that caught my attention was how lore was presented.  Lore is any other information that isn’t directly related to the main story and helps to flesh out the world.  Where most games either force lore into the main story, or have you going out of your way to read paragraphs of information out of a journal, Diablo 3 takes a slipstreamed approach.  As you play the game and encounter monster, a button in the corner of your screen appears alerting you to new lore.  When you click on the lore button, a short voice over talking about a creature you just fought is played while you continue fighting through a dungeon, never interrupting your play.  Journals, written by various characters, are also dropped from containers throughout dungeons.  When you pick them up, you are once again presented with a quick voiceover, done by the character who wrote that journal, informing you of back and side story, all without stopping gameplay.

Overall I enjoyed Diablo 3’s story.  While a bit slow paced, which might have been my own fault, it kept me interested until the end.  I don’t think I’ll be playing the story completely through again without skipping conversations, but I will be watching cutscenes whenever they come up, they’re just too badass to skip.  For a game with so much focus on gameplay, the story was more than adequate.