Perfect Dipper Super (Guild Wars, Perfect Dark Zero)

I won Kotaku’s comment of the day contest. The story about the World Of Warcraft guild paying for its member’s family’s upkeep during a three-month stint in chemotherapy is exceptional, and I felt awkward commenting on it, but I do stand by my observation on communities being the real “next generation” of videogaming. Anyway, I’m getting gaming swag and a couple of games from the cool folks at Kotaku.

The game loot is all PC, sadly: Guild Wars: Factions, Lineage II and Auto Assault. I don’t know much about the latter two, but Guild Wars sparks a lot of monologue.

I was always interested in GW due to its excellent art direction, but Eurogamer’s enthusiastic review really got my attention. GW seems to do lots of things right.

To begin with, there is no level grind. There is a level progression, but I’m told you’ll cap out on level 20 within one week of playing. I take it that the levels are there mostly to gradually introduce the elements of the game. But you won’t be spending your valuable time killing ever so slightly more powerful bunnies to get a couple of percentage’s worth of increase to your damage potential, when you reach the next level in perhaps a couple of more hours of killing bunnies. Many folks say that World Of Warcraft doesn’t really “begin” until you reach level 60. I’m supposed to grind until that to enjoy the game? No thanks.

Guild Wars is based on instances: whenever you embark on a quest alone or with your mates, you go at it without the other gazillion players in the same space with you. While many argue that instances kill the “realism” (yeah, right) in an online game, I say the opposite. World Of Warcraft and its like suffer tons because you have all the other players (many of whom look exactly like you) crowding your view.

GW allows the player interaction (and everyone’s in the same world, no server-specific content here), but only in the hub areas – out in the instanced world, you can adventure just with your buddies. No queuing (sp?) to kill the monster spawn that’s required in your quest. No killstealing. I couldn’t put it better than Eurogamer reviewer Kieron Gillen in his review of the original Guild Wars:

“I was recently playing another MMO Beta. No name, as I’m currently under a non-disclosure agreement. It’s very much based in the Korean model, with lots of extremely repetitive monster-bashing, but cute enough.

At around 3 AM in the morning I had a moment of terrifying clarity as I pulled back my camera to examine the surroundings. I was in a field packed full of people, all hacking down virtually identical monsters with their own virtually identical attacks and sullenly ignoring each other. Everyone’s attacks, for a second, seem to synchronise, in a steady heartbeat, pumping XP through the body of the playerbase and money into the heart of the developer.

This is humanity reduced to the rhythm of a machine, the player as a combine-harvester, the point of the game suddenly clear. Not to be fun, but to be addicting. I was in a Killing Field. If this is all that MMOs are – and the core of most mainstream MMOs are – what exactly is the benefit to the player of these areas being shared?”

Guild Wars has no subscription fee. This is the single thing that got noticed when it was gearing up for launch, and probably the reason why it’s successful. Now, I perfectly understand why most “massively multiplayer” games have subscription fees and I have no regrets paying for the excellent Xbox Live Gold service. But paying money for a single game does not fit my gaming tastes, because I’m a dipper; I dip in and out of games, often playing a single game for one or two nights and then shelving it for months (or years!). So committing myself to spend all of my game time to one game just won’t do.

Related to this, Guild Wars is also designed to not require lots of time to enjoy. Many people tell me they only play it occasionally, and it doesn’t punish you in any way for this. You can compete, even though you’re not a hardcore online nerd. Indeed, the game notifies you when you’ve played for a long time and advises you to take a break! Commendable.

Guild Wars is built on player vs. player (PVP) gameplay. PVP is not for me in other online “ropleplaying” games, because it’s reserved for the elite only, novices need not apply. GW removes the barrier by setting the level cap within reach of the casual player. So you can get immediate access to the good stuff. I don’t know if I’ll like it, but it sounds so tactical with its interchangeable skills that Magic: The Gathering and its ilk spring to mind, which is a good thing.

Speaking of the interchangeable skills, this is a major innovation. All online RPGs to date (to my knowledge) suffer from new players making blunders in character creation. Then they notice that they can’t succeed with the character they’ve made… after playing for weeks. GW takes this crap away, you can be a different guy in every single game you play. Although you’ll probably have favorite setups you always use, you’re not stuck with them. Every time you head out from the hub areas, you pick eight (yes, just eight) powers from your selection to use. This reminds me delightfully of building a deck in a collectable card game (albeit a small deck).

In Xbox 360 news, I got Perfect Dark Zero. It does a couple of things very well despite not being anywhere near the Halo-levels of FPS goodness. The basic gameplay is all right, although nothing special. But the structure keeps things tight.

There is no saving: you need to complete a level in one sitting. This is not a problem, because they rarely take you more than half an hour to complete. After every level, you get very detailed statistics of your performance, which are then compared to your personal best, and crucially, to the world record. I have a strong urge to beat the par times and get higher on the world ranking. This leads you to viewing the singe player game as a sports arena; you play through the levels thinking how you could be more effective, not just to see the next level. Once you know your way around, the levels can often be completed in around five minutes. I would urge other developer to take note of this, it is very compelling indeed.







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