Category Archives: Guild Wars2

MMO Forests, Jungles and GW2 I can’t hear you, lalallaaa

Fall has started to paint the trees around here this time of the year. The morning air is brisk but the days are mild and sunny. Sunlight touched leaves turn from crimson to copper and gold. The brilliance of fall is breathtaking before it submits to winter cold.

This morning

Just this morning

Fall is a tricky season to get right in MMOs for its wide spectrum of colors and different moods. The Plains of Ashford in GW2 come to mind or LOTRO’s Trollshaws, both stunning in their own right. That reminds me that I wished games simulated the turning of seasons more dynamically and persistently than they usually do – just imagine Elwynn Forest going through the seasons with you, instead of seasonal themes being divided by static zones.

MMO forests be it fall, winter or spring, are some of the most popular zones among the player base. Design-wise I imagine it’s easier to create player immersion with a forest setting than a desert or plains, so plentiful are your options with forests. That makes them more design intense for sure, yet also more rewarding when done right. And then there’s jungles; forests of a different kind which by my anecdotal experience, are a lot less popular somehow than the classic, northern European or Canadian role models. Before Heart of Thorns launched, several bloggers were expressing their (premature) dislike for the concept of the new zones.

World of Warcraft is well-known for its jungle maps from Stranglethorn Vale and Un’Goro Crater to the more recent Tanaan Jungle. I remember detesting STV with a passion as an early WoW player – the colors, the noises, the way you had to navigate terrain. My partner on the other hand loved questing there, getting all his pages together for the Nesringwary questline while I bought most of mine on the auction house and thank god for no bind on pickup!

So, what is it with jungles that makes me cringe where forests don’t? I’d say most of it is guilt by association because frankly, I have very little experience with real world jungles and I understand there are hundreds of different kinds. Yet simplified, jungles mean heat and damp; they’re wild, sticky, oppressive, unnerving, chaotic and dangerous in my mind. And there are mosquitoes! Forests on the other hand are cool, composed and quiet. They can be dark and spooky of course but also very reassuring and lonely, in a good way. There is a special German word for the loneliness inside forests that cannot be adequately translated to English: “Waldeinsamkeit” (forest loneliness). It is a feeling of isolation and yet, being solemnly embraced by the forest.

The new zones in Heart of Thorns

I’m hearing good things about the new GW2 expansion so far, particularly about the zone design which is something of a surprise. There’s only so much you dare deduct from pre-expansion announcements, but I was certainly among those unimpressed by ANet’s information on Maguuma Jungle and its altered gameplay at the time. However, it seems my concerns were unfounded: Jeromai reports the jungle in HoT feels a lot different than expected, with amazing zone design and screenshots to show for it. Bhagpuss too has been full of praise since his first day impressions. Two strong votes from fellow explorers for an expansion I had no intention of acquiring anytime soon (damn youuu!).


I am currently overloaded with new games on Steam and subbed to FFXIV and Wildstar, where I have yet to make an earnest attempt at decorating the new plot. Also, I really don’t have much time for gaming at all right now so ARGH……I’ll just ignore everyone talking about the beauty of HoT henceforward, close my eyes and go lalallllaaaaaaaaaaaa I can’t hear youuuuu!

[GW2] Heart of Thorns: How excited should I be?

My initial reaction to a GW2 expansion was one of positive surprise. This is going to be a slow year for MMOs, so it’s nice to have something to follow and look forward to. Of course I have no experience as far as Guild Wars expansions go, so I read the announcement details with some interest.


Turns out, the things that I would naturally look for in an expansion aren’t featured in HoT: there’s no new big world, level cap raise, new race or player housing. Instead, the horizontal progression which has proven to be no less grindy in GW2, continues with sub-professions and more gear. There’s a new class, guild halls and erm, hang gliders. That last one scared me right away.

And then there’s the much inquired mastery system which I didn’t really understand until I read this article about how “GW2’s Mastery System could change MMOs Forever“. Now it wouldn’t be ArenaNet if they didn’t aim for some type of innovation and am certainly not opposed to that, but after reading several times over how the progression approach for Maguma Juungle is basically an MMO spin off Zelda or Metroid, I cringed a little. The map is designed to be vertical, with different levels your character can only access by unlocking certain skills and well, gimmicks really. It sounds like the Bazaar of the Four Winds on steroids.

And hey, skill-based progression is great and all but in the end it’s just another word for grind of a different kind. MMOs that want to be successful, unless they’re called Wildstar, don’t alienate their player base by making things too hard and random for you not to learn by heart, via trial and error. All the while I am with Bhagpuss here in wondering: what is there in HoT for explorers and potterers like us? Where is the whole new world, the carefree straying off the path to end up in a random event or epic dragon encounter?

And I don’t even like jungle zones.

Second Skin: The perfect MMO Gear and Impact on Longterm Commitment

The other day, I had a bit of an argument with my significant other concerning folk who like to transform themselves with help of expressive or more unusual attire, often in their private time. The topic wasn’t so much cosplay but people generally wearing clothes that come with a certain message of affiliation or membership, to name more flamboyant members of the goth/black metal scene as one example. This type of expression isn’t limited to the rock’n rollers among us though; it can be found anywhere, even for more conservative interests such as golfing or hiking. Dressing up for the occasion plays an important role in many social activities and for some people it’s an integral part of who they really are.


Probably not on their way to the golf course. (

At a first glance, this might strike you as a very superficial approach to identity. Why do you need to wear a certain style to feel part of a social group or (in some cases) to communicate associated belief systems? Isn’t our heart the place of true identity? Strictly speaking that is true – it doesn’t make you any more or less of a “punk” whether you’re wearing torn jeans and a mohawk or not. Clothes and looks are deceptive and they should never be a requirement for someone to belong to whatever culture or creed they relate to. I can be committed to a set of beliefs without looking a certain way.

At the same time, clothes can be a powerful catalyst of self-expression, even self-discovery and confidence building. There’s a reason why many actors, especially method actors require authentic clothing that goes with the character they’re not just playing but becoming. Inner and outer transformation go together. There’s also a more common phenomenon of someone cutting their hair after ending a longterm relationship or getting tattooed after a great cesura in their lives. Our body is a reflection of the things that are happening to us. Some people, not all people, simply choose to include that part of themselves more actively.

Loving variety, I hold a torch for people who go for the so-called deviant styles in our society, be it a part-time thing or fulltime commitment. It takes guts to go against social conformity and nobody deserves to be written off on account of green hair or piercings. That’s one of the criteria I try to push as a recruiter too, by recommending clients keep an open mind to more colorful candidates rather than blindly trusting another picture in a grey suit and tie. At the same time, I’m trying not to fall prey to inverted snobbery; I admit I have a soft spot for people who don’t fit the corporate cookie cutter.

The perfect MMO gear

I’m neither the most imaginative nor boring dresser in real life but when it comes to my MMO avatars, I’ve always cared a great deal about customization options and cosmetics. I don’t know if this interest is more prevalent among players that treat their avatars like an alter ego but I am guessing most of us have preferences regarding their MMO character'(s) looks and have things that can throw them in/out of immersion. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the sub-par customization options of some games and the often lackluster or ill-conceived gear choices. And so I wonder: how have my past avatars’ looks, more specifically gear approach of the MMOs I’ve played the most, affected my playing longevity? Where and when did I truly feel at home gearwise?

World of Warcraft


I played WoW for over 6 years and would call my experiences with its gear a very mixed bag of hits and misses. WoW made me feel epic spellcaster and disco clown in equal amounts and even the better sets I collected over that time were more hyper-stylized than I would have wanted, glorified leotards with near-zero extra customization options. Transmogrification was added just after I left and to this day Blizzard haven’t added a dye system. I guess this means gear wasn’t an integral part of my character immersion in WoW despite a few definite favorites.

Guild Wars 2


To this day I’ve never played an MMO with more beautiful, aesthetically pleasing gear than GW2’s, certainly none with a better dye system. While ArenaNet could’ve offered more variety in their initial character selection, there’s not much left today that you cannot do with cosmetic and town gear. And yet, despite loving the different looks of my Elementalist, I cannot exactly claim to have been immersed in my alter ego. This is tricky to explain: to me, GW2’s gear is almost too beautiful, like a painting or wonderful piece of art to admire from afar without wishing to take it home with you. I love looking at my character but she isn’t really me, not the way I think of myself as an adventurer. What can I say, it’s complicated!



I’ve never written a post on LOTRO’s gear. Instead, I’ve praised it frequently as my personal winner of immersion in so many ways – from scale to atmosphere, scenery and sound effects. There’s an authentic quality to online Middle-Earth that’s never been reached in other games. It’s therefore probably no surprise that my favorite MMO gear too, is in fact my Lore-Master’s humble Ferrier’s Robe with its leather straps, stitched pieces of fur and merrily dangling satchels (I imagine they would dangle). Combined with a simple hood and backpack, I never felt better dressed or more ready for adventure than in LOTRO. There is countless lovingly detailed gear in the game like that, with the kind of commitment to practicality that may only be found in ESO right now. I love my character’s looks in LOTRO – more importantly, this could be me tomorrow!

Sometimes less is more, especially where immersion is concerned. However awesome gear or not, it’s probably fair to say that it’s not our character’s looks or customization options that decide over the longevity of our commitment. That doesn’t mean they do not add a lot of enjoyment to the games we’re playing though or that there aren’t certain breaking points. Playing Wildstar right now, I am back to hyper-stylized but also practical gear. Mostly, I am happy that the game doesn’t make me run around half-naked.

What was your perfect MMO gear of all time? Do you feel your character’s looks have any bearing on how much you can enjoy a title longterm? I wager more customization is always popular in MMOs, no matter how much we love cosmetics. There are limitations to what I can wear or get away with in real life, so it’s all the more important my online selves enjoy that unlimited freedom of self-expession.

What the players want – who can say?

In a recent comment over here, blogosphere buddy Bhagpuss made an unsuspecting remark which at its core is a most familiar sentiment to all longterm MMO players, I’m sure:

[…]But that’s just what GW2 has become and, as people are prone to say, it is what it is. It could have grown into something very much more but apparently that’s not what the majority of players wanted so there you go.

I am going to blatantly take this quote out of its specific context and write a longer, more generalized post about it (sorry Bhag!).

What’s what the players want?

“What the players wanted” and any variation thereof is a commonly used phrase and reaction to MMO design, more often MMO design changes, that vexes me on a personal level. And oh, I have done it myself: how many times did I not do the “now reap what you sowed! (and I hope you suffocate on it)” fist-shake in gloomy retrospective whenever WoW changed for the worse over the years since 2004, in my very personal opinion? In a less considerate moment I’d love to blame all of you out there who are still playing for the state of the game. You ruined WoW for me or something.

But let’s get back to more rational debate. Every time MMOs change/evolve design direction the way so many have, the way GW2 has done from a non-commital “grind-and endgame-free” vision to what it is today, are we really in the position to say that it’s what the players wanted? If so, how do we know? More importantly, where would developers get such corroborated information?

(*)Not once in my 12 years-and-ongoing MMO career did I ever receive a developer letter asking me what I wanted. Not once did I receive a legit, official request or poll along the lines of “Dear Syl, please vote now if you would like to see achievements introduced to our game” or “…please let us know if you’re happy about another +5 level-cap increase with more gear grind at its end”. That would be spelling it out of course (and not a bad thing either).

Not once did anything remotely similar happen to me. And unless there is a secret society of select MMO players out there that receive these kind of emails when I’m not, other players don’t either. So, where and how exactly does the playerbase actively get to decide over an existing game’s direction? Surely not on chaotic message boards that no CM can effectively interpret and where it’s only ever the loudest voices that get noticed. Everyone should have figured that out by now.


So maybe it’s the silent majority? Only, how does one speak on behalf of a silent group of people? Are they just “everyone else that is not on forums and twitter” that you therefore get to refer to easily for any given purpose since hey, it’s not like they’re saying anything to oppose you? Are we a homogenous mass of people just because we don’t scream and shout?

For me, it doesn’t work that way. It won’t do to retrospectively declare that things are the way they are because they went along with it. There’s a big difference here for me to actively shaping a process. To clarify: I’m not saying that developers should be telepathic and my main point is not to blame any particular group in the gaming industry for this situation (although clearly someone is to blame) – but you don’t get to tell me it’s what I wanted when it clearly wasn’t what I wanted and I never told you that it was.

Voting with your wallet blah

Here’s another catch-phrase I’ve come to dislike over the last few years: just vote with your wallet. The reason for my dislike is the simple truth of it and yet, it falls so horribly short in taking reality into account. I’m a part of a collective whose power is only as big or small as that same collective. I am also an enthusiast in a changing industry and on a wider scope, a human being in a constantly changing world. I’m not generally opposed to change; I’m constantly trying to evaluate which changes to embrace and which not to. Do I pay for an alpha? A beta? A collector’s edition? Do I pre-order? Kickstart? My head hurts.

I did vote with my wallet and unsubscribed from WoW at the end of WotLK, after a 6 years run of raiding madness. It has clearly made no impact whatsoever. If anything, Blizzard has become even less of a company I like to endorse than I did back then. But hey, I have the grim satisfaction of voting with my wallet, right? At least I don’t appear to be agreeing with this product anymore.

Whatever the silent player is supposed to do, I can’t seem to win. That’s why I object so strongly to the sentiment of absolute player/customer responsibility. As far as game design and development goes, the powers at work are way more complex and obscure than what any of us could influence. As much as players love to think they’re shaping games and as much as we love to blame others for when things turn badly, the much more likely scenario is that somewhere in an office, someone in a fancy suit with too many spreadsheets has figured out exactly which design directions to push in order to maximize monetization or subs or co-dependence. Sure, every once in a while a developer will ask us directly what we’d like on some social media platform, usually years or at least months before launch because that’s a good time to crowd-source and get cosy with fans. But videogame design is not a democracy, first and foremost it’s business and sneaky psychology.



And players tend to go along with stuff. There may be some fluctuation but overall we are a flexible bunch when it comes to franchises we’ve come to love or where we’ve simply invested so much time already that it’s hard to leave behind the trophies and fancy dresses. Design directions don’t change over night either; they trickle down ever so slowly until we’ve all but forgotten where we came from and one small change at a time seems as harmless as the last one. That’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a way of doing business and shaping your audience to fit your product.

In summary to this conundrum I will say this: I never wanted achievements in WoW, the cross-sever dungeons or flying mounts. And I certainly never ever asked for an achievement tab greeting me at the login screen of GW2 – game of too many back items and weapon skins. I didn’t ask for that, more importantly didn’t vote on that. Maybe others did consciously and some unconsciously and I could blame that second group’s lack of action but it tires me to do so. As long as nobody is sending each and every one of their paying customers an official, transparent and individual request to vote on a game’s direction, I am sure as hell not going to take responsibility (or credit) for the way that MMOs are changing and neither should anyone else. Sorry developers but that one’s still on you!

(*) Clarification: I’m not saying I want these kinds of democratic player votes on game design; I don’t for various reasons. What I’m saying is since I am clearly not in a democracy here, you don’t get to share responsibility or retrospective blame with me democratically, either (let alone putting it all on players).

[Wildstar] A Look at Telegraphs and Active Combat

While the Wildstar closed beta is still running hot and more and more press footage is being released on the net (the lucky ones), players have been debating and in places worrying about the active combat and telegraph system. How comfortable does Wildstar’s combat feel compared to other active combat MMOs? How are the telegraphs gonna pan out in 40man raids?

Already in July 2013, Carbine released a devspeak introducing telegraphs, making it very clear that the most defining aspect of Wildstar combat was gonna be this: aiming. After analyzing what similar titles had done in the past, Carbine settled for a “freeform targeting” approach which, while conserving the basic tab targeting function, allows players to adjust (and miss with) their area of effect at any given time, and vice versa for enemies. The result is a fairly colorful and at times hectic bling-fest, where the player is not only trying to aim his attacks most effectively (not all parts of a telegraph deal the same damage) but reacting to enemy attacks pro-actively and dodge-rolling or strafing to get out of the really bad stuff. This makes for a rather complex and highly skill-based combat, especially where tougher challenges and PvP are concerned.


As illustrated in the devspeak, telegraphs come in various shapes, with different cast methods, ranges and synergies. They can be stationary or mobile, instant or require ramp-up times. Naturally, colors signify whether a telegraph is detrimental (red), beneficial (green) or a variety of other things players will need to internalize. This has justifiably raised questions of overlapping (telegraphs are translucent) in group play or prioritization. No doubt, telegraphs will be adjusted and tweaked for a while to come yet, before Carbine have found the perfect balance – and then there are always addons. What’s probably safe to say is that this active combat looks far from boring or the automated face-roll we know from older games.

How Wildstar combat compares to other MMOs

Not surprisingly, Wildstar’s combat is frequently compared to that of recent predecessors TERA and GW2. That is interesting because, having personally played both MMOs, their active combat falls on different sides of the same coin for me.

GW2 is hands down my favorite MMO combat to date. It is characterized by a very high mobility and character-centricity, in the sense that combat focus is less about the aiming (there is auto-attack and classic auto-aim via tab) and more prioritizing dodging and survival on the player’s end. When the stakes are high in GW2, players will always move out of the bad first while not having to worry about aiming; auto-attack can take care of such transitions for a while. Indeed, you could take your eyes off the enemy completely if need be.

Auto-aim but quick on your feet

Auto-aim but quick on your feet

TERA on the other hand, flips the coin: while there are some mobile abilities, TERA is back to classic stationary combat that won’t generally allow you to cast while running. While it combines good old feet-of-stone with dodge-rolls, it prioritizes a mob-centric focus. Special attacks and AoE aside, TERA’s active combat is all about freely aimed projectiles (via cross-hair feature) which makes for a fun change from other MMOs. Coming straight from GW2 however, I did miss my mobility. I even wondered how awesome it might be to combine the two modes.

So, where does that put Wildstar? From all I’ve seen so far studying various sources and footage, Wildstar combat falls squarely in the middle. It requires the same constant vigilance tougher GW2 encounters ask for in terms of self-management and survival, while improving on TERA’s aimed combat with telegraphs. While there are some more stationary classes such as the Esper, this new MMO is all about mobility and aiming in equal amounts!

That will take some getting used to, especially for the more laidback and lazy casters among us. I wouldn’t go as far as declaring the peaceful solo-questing routine of one-handed pewpew dead but Wildstar combat is most definitely gonna ask for more attention than many popular AAA-titles have in the past. Carbine intend to keep their combat interesting for a long time and given how combat is such a central feature for most MMOs, I don’t blame them for putting that much thought into it.

As Telwyn recently pointed out too, it’s all about finding a happy balance. We will see how the player base adjusts once the dust has settled over the Nexus and everyone has had time to learn some new tricks. I for one welcome that MMO combat is still evolving.

With a Crying and a Laughing Eye: A Look at GOTYs of 2013 and MMOs for 2014

It’s that time of the year and we are all horribly stressed. Everyone demands things from us at work and they only just remembered, there are trips to plan and if you are very unlucky, a ton of last minute Christmas presents to buy for your more-or-less loved ones. I am looking at my Steam wish list and wonder what to gift myself. It’s quiet right now, outside the world of consoles.

Looking back on a year of gaming, 2013 was as MMO-starved as initially expected. Even Wildstar took a pass at a well-timed launch, eager to make Q2 of 2014 even more unmanageable. Only TESO has finally come forth and snatched the magic date of 04.04.2014, fingers crossed! We shall see – such are the words of wise (and burnt) MMO veterans. I gave up on Guild Wars 2 this summer after the Bazaar of the Four(thousand) Achievements event and I am still stuck at the gates of Moria in LOTRO (edro, edro!). Other than that, I’ve had a look at TERA and found it to be very beautiful and just as flawed. I played some FFXIV:ARR too, only to forget about it. Such was my year of MMORPGs.


In lieu of many new MMO stories to tell, I am excited for a new year packed with MMO launches and Wildstar isn’t even among them. Here go my most-anticipated MMOs of 2014:

1) The Elder Scrolls Online
While the game looks far from perfect depending on what gameplay video you watch on youtube, it shows all the flaws (ugly character models, clunky UI) of Skyrim – game of games. All things considered, I choose to trust those (as I have no choice here in the EU where no beta keys have been released) who have named it a true Skyrim experience and put my money on TESO for 2014. You can laugh and point fingers when the time comes as I’m sure you will. (I would).

2) Everquest Next & Landmark
Still unsure about how Landmark is going to work and play into EQN, I look forward to some of the design progress SOE intends to take up from GW2. Rallying Calls sound hot and the Adventurer Class finds me mildly excited. Not exactly boundless euphoria (the cartoony graphics are still a major turn-off) but I think we can expect a polished package from SOE, with some unique twists as usual. And if not, well it’s all free to play, right?

3) Archage
Another game to be published by Trion, Archage piqued my curiosity although I can’t quite say why. Maybe it’s because the entire character customization and backgrounds look like ArenaNet had some weekends to spare, or because the game is supposedly this awesome sandbox with 120 classes and non-instanced housing. I don’t care for naval combat but I admit sending other players to prison sounds appealing.

4) Skyforge
Nobody knows much about Skyforge, the fact aside that Team Allods and Obsidian Entertainment (Neverwinter Nights 2) have decided to join forces in developing a new MMO. While they didn’t bother releasing any information in English so far and the only existing “trailer” is a lot of repetitive blah in vibrant colors, I have lots of Allods love to give to this project. All that said, that 2014 launch is highly dubious.

MMOs aside, I look forward to The Witcher 3 (SO MUCH!), Dragon Age Inquisition, Child of Light and Tom Clancy’s: The Division. That last one looks like there might be some splendid coop play to be had and I need to compensate for Destiny not launching on PC.


This better be good!

As for my GOTYs of 2013

Outside the world of MMOs, 2013 has been a fantastic year for indie gaming. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve had the greatest fun with smaller titles this year, taking me completely aback and delivering the sort of experiences many AAA-games can only dream of. I’ve also been late to some parties in 2013 which is why not all of my personal GOTYs were actually released this year. Sue me.

1) Don’t Starve
This quirky, dark-humored and deeply complex rogue-like, with its Burton-esque flair and stellar soundtrack, is undoubtedly one of the craziest bangs for the buck of 2013. DS is a polished gem of hilarious proportions and everyone should get it! Nuff said.

2) Dust: An Elysian Tail
My great love of 2013, Dust is every bit the work of love of its tireless creator. It’s a beautiful game packed with retro and indie homage, intuitive and fun combat, deep story and loveable characters, secrets to hunt down (spoiler!) and a stunning soundtrack, making for an easy 12+ hours of gameplay at a ridiculous price. Not enough good things can be said about Dust: AET, indeed.

3) Bioshock Infinite
While much can be debated on behalf of BI’s story, there can be no doubt that it ranks among the greatest AAA-experiences of 2013. Stunning visuals, complex narrative and intriguing characters have made this rail shooter a must-play in my books (and I don’t shoot that often).

4) The Witcher 2
Rather late than never, I am currently still playing the Witcher 2 and have completely fallen in love with its characters and immersive way of story-telling. People have complained about the frequent cut scenes but you’ll hear no complaints from me. The Witcher 2 features some of the best dialogue I’ve ever seen in an RPG, a carefree way of making choices and beautiful, atmospheric settings (that to be fair, could be more completely accessible). Oh, and dragons!

5) LOTRO (my MMO saving grace!)
Impossibly late to this one, I started playing LOTRO between December 2012 and January 2013 and have been paying subscriptions ever since. Even if I’m complaining about the experience grind before Moria, LOTRO is probably among the Top 3 MMORPGs I have ever played, with hands down the most immersive MMO world I ever had the privilege to travel. Much of this is thanks to things like perfect scale and sound effects which we have yet to see in other games. Also: player music!

Looking back, I almost feel a little sad parting with 2013 now but nothing that a great new MMO can’t fix. Beware 2014, such weight already lieth on thy shoulders! Do we dare to unleash our expectations – or should we play it safe, for now?

P.S. I’ve played ‘Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons’ few days after writing this article and it is officially added to my GOTYs of 2013!

Battle Bards – Episodes #15 and #16: Tearjerkers and AION

Adventure isn’t always about the heroic and cheerful moments. There is a time and place in games and MMOs too where we should be challenged with complex feelings and choices. And so it was my turn to come up with the next Battle Bards topic for episode 15, scaring off my co-hosts in the process; Tearjerkers, or rather sad melodies, proved to be a tough nut to crack for the bards. What constitutes emotional music? Does it make you feel misty eyed or gloomy, melancholic or wistful? Once we started asking these questions, episode 15 opened the door to a wide variety of thoughts and ideas and personally, I think everyone did just fine coming up with interesting picks for this show!

Episode #15 – Tearjerkers OR Direct Download


Episode 15 show notes

  • “Intro Cinematic” from Blade & Soul
  • “Forgotten Sorrow (in-game piano version)” from Aion
  • “Sorrowful Lamentations of a Rusty Heart” from Rusty Hearts
  • “Ul’dah Town Theme at Night” from Final Fantasy XIV
  • “The Sea of Sorrows” from Guild Wars 2
  • “Shadow Kingdom” from Asheron’s Call 2
  • “Arthas, My Son” from World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Two weeks later we returned to the more sunny and nostalgic side of things with episode 16, talking all things AION with much support from Steff, the only Battle Bard with actual AION experience. This soundtrack features a lot of surprises, epic scale and dramatic choirs – almost a bit too much in places (for me anyway), but we still managed to cover a variety of different themes (we hope!). The tower of eternity is definitely a soundtrack worth exploring at length!

Episode #16 – AION OR Direct Download

Episode 16 show notes

  • “Utopia 3.0 main theme”
  • “Tower of Eternity”
  • “Song of Katalam / 4.0 login”
  • “Fortress of Gods”
  • “Death Waltz”
  • “Steel Rake”
  • “Canyon”

GW2 Highlevel Light Armor Styles

One of the things that strikes you when going straight from GW2 to a bit of Tera, because Tera has shinies, is that in all due fairness the two games mostly keep an even scale where skimpiness is concerned. The eternal cringe that is the Elin aside, Tera’s nekidness is mostly visible in its High Elves and Castanics (I love my gender neutral Popori!). Many NPCs wear the type of badass armor that makes you question why oh why they couldn’t just stick to that overall aesthetic?


Depending on race and armor choices, you can mostly avoid the sexy armor if you so choose, which similarly to GW2 gets frustrating at times but is still doable. A great range of class and cultural armor in GW2 adds bare midriffs, split skirts and high heels for its female heroes, and yet the audience at large seems to be okay with that arrangement. Depending on time and chance, you’ll have a very hard time spotting serious looking apparel (and not another iteration of the masquerade set) standing around the mystical forge in Lion’s Arch. Yet, some games clearly get more beef, especially pre-hyped beef, for their armor design than others. I do wonder a little why that is.

This brings me to a long-made promise concerning my Elementalist in GW2 whom I love to outfit. I managed to create three overall sets/looks for max level that I’m incredibly happy with, so without further ado, let me share my favorite srs bzns styles for GW2 light armor classes (all items come without class/race requirements):

1) The Berserker
The first seriously awesome exotic set I ever got in GW2, Berserker Acolyte items become available from lvl62 upwards. This set is best known for its heavy skirt and blindfold mask, creating the original Illidan look. I love what different color palettes can do here and I prefer a random drop called Doric Helm of the Valkyrie (pics 2 and 3) over the default headpiece. This style is cheap and easy to come by in the market place!


2) The “Queen’s Guard
Named for its royal baroque look, I named this mix’n match between the Berserker set and several more items the Queen’s Guard. The extra pieces to look for here are Mending Epaulets (of something), (Valykrie’s )Exalted Pants and very common Apprentice Shoes. The more delicate Masquerade gloves will also fit in beautifully (pic 3).


3) Conqueror of Arah
By far my proudest accomplishment, nothing radiates rite of passage the way the Orrian set from Arah does. I sweat blood and tears acquiring this look! All pieces are awesome and unique, not to mention versatile – letting you go from demon spawn (especially with the default head piece) to my favorite angel healer depending on coloration. Since I love the steampunk vibe of the Inquest Cowl from Crucible of Eternity, I substituted that one with the rather ugly Orrian mask.


I gotta admit, the very last look in blue/white is a big favorite although I clearly should’ve remembered to switch my gloves back before taking that screenshot.

These pictures should prove beyond a doubt that GW2 features some wonderful armor that treats the ladies right – so dear ArenaNet, you have my approval to create more of these and less of those, thank you!

For more light armor inspiration, check my old overview of non-skimpy low level styles and also this formidable skins overview on the GW2 Guru forums. Choices, choices!

Green is the new Green! Why none of this really matters (but it’s fun all the same)

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. [source]

There is something strangely unsettling, or comforting depending on your viewpoint, about the nature of human culture(s), tastes and trends. It so happens that throughout the entire course of more civilized history, the same topics have been discussed fervently in certain circles, the way they are today in certain circles. The same things have gone in and out of fashion in regular intervals and even the greatest cultural or societal accomplishments would suffer serious setbacks. Revolutions, invasions, fires, plagues all had that kind of power but on a much subtler intellectual level do our social, moral and everyday values fluctuate – rather than following one perfect, smooth line of progression. We are never quite “there” because we cannot make final calls about where that is. In the end, what do we know about tomorrow anyway?

When it comes to fashion or art in general, we’re used to talking about “waves”; plateau shoes and those horrible flared jeans keep coming back ever so often. History repeats itself. Impressionism, surrealism, photorealism – who can say where we’re going? Mainstream furniture design rejected by our parents becomes classy and hip again.


Games releasing this Sept 2013

Of course videogame design and related criticism (professional or amateur doesn’t matter one bit) follow pretty much the same pattern, be it formally or otherwise. Remember how one popular reaction to the big “representation of women in videogames”-debate has been to get more women into the industry, having more women develop, design and write female characters in recent years? All the smart people, the vocal people, the opinion making sites agreed. It’s the answer. It’s the truth.

That argument? So last season! We’re moving past that, as the comment section on one of Gamasutra’s most popular articles of late suggests; why shouldn’t men be able to write interesting female characters? The most acclaimed authors of all time have done? Women write about men all the time? What do you mean, men can’t write good female characters?? You’re not an alien I can’t possibly relate to, are you?

We’ll see more of that soon, I’m sure. Back and forth.

And then there was the MMO community

For a long time now mainstream MMO players, myself included, have driven the genre forward by asking for polish, more accessibility and convenience in game design. When we’re thinking of Ultima Online or Everquest, most of us don’t want to go back. Sometimes we feel like we do, but really….we don’t. At the same time, whenever we’ve gotten used to novelty to the point of saturation, we get nostalgic for some of the old days – yes, even the good old, bad days. Stuff we called broken or annoying suddenly looks appealing. And it’s not just that we want what we don’t have; it’s the realization of a person that has come full circle, that can only fully appreciate in retrospective.  Most noticeably this has happened to me the first time I ever played Minecraft (see second paragraph).

When struck by a particularly powerful wave of homesickness or sudden retro longing, our memory often fails to distinguish, too (wait…was it the “good” or the “bad” type of grind I am missing? Umm..). All MMO players have a hopeless romantic inside of them. Okay, maybe not EVE Online players.

Right now, and Guild Wars 2 has a lot to do with it, I keep hearing how the oldschool questing system of FFXIV A Realm Reborn is “refreshing” or doing it for people. No judgement here, I don’t have to follow suit. It is however a noteworthy and remarkable statement insofar as there is absolutely nothing novel or refreshing about kill ten rats; I can play LOTRO or WoW today and get the same. Yet, that’s not what players are comparing ARR to when they’re calling it refreshing (in its conservatism). They’re comparing to the youngest, the most recent, the closest neighbour in the cultural line of progression: Guild Wars 2 (which made a lot of noise about events).

The wave is on the decline. For a little while. All novelty wears off and becomes boredom – yes, even freedom can get boring in MMOs.


What can we learn from this? That before all so-called progress, what we really want is variation. We yearn to learn things, master things, then move on to different things. Not just new; it needs to be new and different.

Just imagine the implications and impact for game design and development here, how crucial timing is for developers when launching a brand new franchise.

The King is dead! Long live the King!

Given there are only so many ways in which you can design a quest mechanic (insert any other topic of interest in MMOs) green is the new green after we’ve had a fair taste of purple. While the episode is in progress, the correct question is therefore not “who is right / what’s better, green or purple?” but much rather “what stage of the process are we at?”. It’s when we don’t share the answer to that last question on an individual level, when discussions usually start.

Long live easy access! – Long live hoops and attunements!
Long live FFA grouping! – Long live the holy trinity!
Long live public events! – Long live fetch & delivery!
Long live free to play! – Long live subscriptions!
Long live the casual! – Long live the hardcore!

Who is right? What’s truth in the long run, to the one that lives in the moment? Between yesterday’s heyday and today’s progress, the only truth is constant change. But of course we’ll keep arguing, disagreeing and searching on our blogs and elsewhere, as we should – because it’s interesting, social, engaging and occasionally useful. Most of all, it’s fun and I hope you’ll keep doing it with me as we chase that fickle child of time forever. – Yours truly, Syl (currently still riding that purple).

Truth is a child of time, not authority.
[Life of Galileo; B. Brecht]

EQNext’s Rallying Calls – A Reason to rally?

Personally I’d like to know […] what type of spin SOE intend to put on traditional questing. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can do much better than ArenaNet in this department. ~ Syl

One of the great achievements of Guild Wars 2 will always be the introduction of more dynamic, or shall we say more complex and genuine public events than ever before in MMO history. Some have tried to downplay this achievement for various reasons, but as far as I am concerned ArenaNet have completely altered the state of traditional MMO questing and set a very high bar for AAA-MMORPGs to come in the exploration department.

The fact that fetch & delivery have all but gone in this game, with travel and exploration actually focused on the environment with random events triggered all around you whether you be there or not, have spoiled me completely for older games such as LOTRO where the fedex-grind is still alive and well (ftr: I like LOTRO but questing is tedious). Fans of traditional questing have argued that a mixture of public events and traditional questing would’ve created a better outcome for GW2 – I’m not sure I concur. Guess I’m just too loaded with kill-ten-rats-angst to delve further into this subject.

Now, just to remember briefly why GW2’s dynamic events are mostly amazing:

  • Randomly popping up, free-for-all, location-bound scenarios with individual loot; it’s true that they’re actually on a timer but the average player such as myself doesn’t really track this and probably won’t for a while to come (unless you’re after specifics).
  • Multi-stage events with various outcome; the wiki calls this the “cascading effect” which basically means some events will trigger more events (sometimes) and with various outcome depending on if/how the group succeeded.
  • Multiple targets / solution finding; most quests allow for different playstyles in order to be solved – be it slaying monsters, gathering items or setting roofs on fire. Unlike for Wildstar, paths exist in GW2 without being a determining and lasting choice.


TERA didn't get the memo!

TERA didn’t get the memo!

Still, events in GW2 aren’t perfect. There’s certainly room to improve, especially where mechanics and impact are concerned:

  • Repetition & lasting impact; many events reset too swiftly with the environment going back to base one. Sometimes you see structures re-assemble right after your quest marker popped up. While MMO worlds must restore much of their status quo for obvious reasons (and we all hate phasing), there could be longer and more lasting public events overall, shaping the face of the land and story.
  • Scaling; this never really worked well in GW2. Encounters become a trivial zerg in larger groups, difficulty doesn’t scale as dynamically as it should. That said, this is a very tricky task to master as group size often changes constantly.

EQNext’s Rallying Calls

During the big Las Vegas reveal, SOE introduced their “holy grails” for EQNext, one of which are Rallying Calls (RC). Yet another word for public events, there seems to be a lot of added depth and complexity to RCs which may greatly improve the dynamic events we know so well from GW2 – in theory, anyway. I am all for permanent change in MMOs, public events and collective server efforts; what WoW veteran doesn’t think back fondly on the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj? In this context, I admit the promises of SOE sound exciting –

….Long-term, multi-chapter public scenarios (3 months or more) which continuously change and shape the environment? Multiple problem solving? Different / random order of events on different servers? – I like it!

We can do with a lot more randomness, secrets and continuous change in this genre. It’s the spice that adds excitement and authenticity to our virtual worlds which all too often boil down to a static and broken record, no matter their pretty paint. Now, if SOE are going to pay as much attention to things like environmental / weather and sound effects as they do for events and permanent change, this upcoming title might truly evolve questing and exploration to the point of new-found MMO immersion.

This is where I say a prayer there shan’t be added “traditional quests” in this game (“…please don’t let there be a quest log, please don’t let there be a quest log!”) – or are there any traditionalists out there longing to see the fedex routine return to EQNext? If so, I’m all ears!