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 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.

The World is in the Details

Multiplayer video games have been around for a long while and have become one of the most popular types of game out there.  There’s something about competition and being able to play with or against other people instead of just against a computer.  While some games throw the player into a free-for-all competition of every man to himself, many more place players onto teams.

In team multiplayer games, players are most often separated into two sides.  In order to distinguish enemy from foe, the two sides need to look different.  In many games, even popular ones such as Halo, the two sides are differentiated by color.  These color differences are enough to serve their function of team identification, but when developers pay closer attention to team details, a whole new layer can be added to the game.

In the Tribes game series, which is exclusively multiplayer, the developers made the effort to have each side look completely different.  Player armor isn’t just a new paint job with a different color slapped on.  Each team’s armor not only has its own color scheme, they also have their own insignias and even the models are different, giving each team a unique look rarely found in other games.

The Diamond Sword (left) and Blood Eagle (right) pathfinder armor.

In the latest incarnation of Tribes, Tribes: Ascend, they take these differences much farther.  While in past games there were minor differences in armor models, in Tribes: Ascend each team’s models are completely different.  They have even made each class have different armor, though all armor on a team keeps the same style across all classes.

Even the flags are completely different.  The Diamond Sword flag has a stylized metal sword running through it.  Its colors are almost metallic with a hint of blue.  In contrast, the Blood Eagle flag is adorned with an eagle crest on the top of it and its coloring is very, very red.  Even the flag stands themselves are different, leaving nothing but their general flag shape the same between them.

The Diamond Sword (left) and Blood Eagle (right) flags.

To cement these differences between the teams even more, the announcer for each team is voiced by a different actor.  The Diamond Sword team’s announcer is a strong woman who calls the Blood Eagles “butchers”.  As a strong opposite, the Blood Eagles announcer is voiced by a man who speaks of the Diamond Swords as “sand rakers”.

What’s even more exciting to me is that Tribes: Ascend doesn’t yet include the tribes of Starwolf or Children of the Phoenix.  Hopefully Hi-Rez adds these other Tribes to the game and makes them just as different and diverse as Blood Eagle and Diamond Sword.

All of this detail and team diversity builds a world in which the Tribes universe can firmly exist.  It brings everything beyond just a multiplayer game and gives the players subtle hints as to the nature of the conflict between the two fighting sides.  The backstory, if you give it a little thought and pay attention to the clues, starts to build itself without any in your-face-lore, thus making it all the more intriguing, pulling you deeper into the game.