Guild Wars 2: Raider of the Lost Observatory (Stress Test Jumping Puzzle)

As I mentioned in my previous article about the stress test, I spent a lot of time exploring the PvE side of Guild Wars 2. One of the things I love most about the game is how you can just stumble upon interesting NPC interactions, breathtaking vistas or, in this case, a jumping puzzle hidden away in an obscure spot on the map.

I should begin by saying that I had no prior knowledge that this particular area even existed. While there are several videos out now concerning the Collapsed Observatory, at the time I was just wandering the area around Isgarren’s View and taking in the scenery. My hour-long adventure into the observatory all started with finding a river that led to a waterfall in the cliffs. I followed it on a whim, wanting an answer to a simple question…

Where does it lead?

Upon closer inspection, I could see that the waterfall was tiered and led further back into the rocks. It looked passable. The only problem was figuring out how to get up the edge. Now that I’ve seen footage of people far more skilled and resourceful than I am making it look easy, I’m a little embarrassed. At the time, however, I was happy to dust off my old Mario platforming skills and look for a foothold in the rocks.

The Observatory lies due South of the Cereboth Canyon waypoint. The bright cluster of dots marks my repeated failures at jumping up the initial waterfall.

After equal parts of stumbling and bumbling, I managed to get up the ledge and enter combat with a lethargic ooze that had apparently been waiting on me to bring him lunch. It wasn’t too difficult to persuade him to abandon that idea, but I did find it odd that he was just hanging out in this obscure corner of the map.

Unless, of course, I was on to something more than just a random cave.

As I made my way deeper into the cave, I noticed the signs of ruins. It seems I was approaching an ancient and forgotten structure that was buried beneath the mountain.

I know that has to sound odd or overly dramatic when you read about it on a blog or watch it in a video, but I assure you that at the time it was an extremely genuine and heartfelt moment of discovery for me. For an hour at least, ArenaNet had given me a completely unique and unexpected MMO gaming experience. It was true exploration.

Every Indiana Jones scene I committed to memory as a child came rushing back.

What was this place? Would there be any treasure? Were there traps?

DID I NEED A BAG OF SAND?

Looking back the way I had come. Also making sure there were no large boulders set to roll down from above to crush or trap me.

A little deeper inside, and the stream ended into the rocks and I could not follow. Some of the water trickled by a once massive stairway that had long ago rotted away, and plummeted down several dozen yards into the waterway below. The ruins were still impressive, and I could see oozes had set up homes inside the hollows of the old tower.

There were no signs of the men who had built this ruin, nor any hint to its purpose. I knew that to explore it further meant I would need to jump, but I hesitated. Would the ancient, splintered stairway hold my weight? Would I leap onto rocks only to have them crumble under me and send me to my death far below?

I’m playing a MMO and actually having these thoughts? I’m experiencing wonder and anxiety in equal measure, and while I know I’m in no real danger, I had no desire to have to return to the Cereboth Canyon Waypoint broken, bloody and beaten.

I kept expecting an Asura to pop out and say “Throw me the idol. I throw you the whip.”

So I jumped.

And kept jumping.

In some places I would slowly edge myself off my perches. In others I would use an ability to grant myself a Swiftness buff and leap forward with all my pixelated might.

I took my time and carefully plotted each new move.

Eventually, and without dying I might add, I came to rest in what appeared to be a dead end. Barred windows of a what once must have been the enormous main structure lay before me. I had apparently come all this way for nothing. Trapped by my own curiosity, I had run out of options.

Who knows? Maybe in 10,000 years, even I would be worth something.

After a few moments, I decided to do what I had purposefully avoided doing while jumping repeatedly from a precarious heights…

I looked down.

And there he was… A veteran troll. Eight feet of green and mean, just waiting for me to jump down into his reach. If I thought I was ticked off being trapped in a dead end for a few minutes, I could only imagine what kind of mood Captain Cuddles was in.

To make matters worse, the floor had crumbled away in several places, revealing the rocks and water far below. I worried that if he had a knockback, I’d only trade one death for another.

Troll. Very dangerous. You go first.

I jumped anyway.

What happened after was an epic battle the likes of which Harrison Ford himself would have appreciated!

I was a bit worse for wear, but I survived.

I was just turning to scout the area and hopefully find a way out when I saw it…

A chest.

Granted, it was no Ark of the Covenant, sacred Sivalinga stone or the Holy Grail. Hell, it wasn’t even Kate Capshaw. (Good thing too, because I would have left her in the box.) But it was something, and it was all mine.

I could tell you what was inside, but I won’t. The reward at the end was great, but it wasn’t the point. Much like Indy finding the cup of Christ, the prize wasn’t the cup itself, it was the journey and having faith rewarded.

My faith in ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2 certainly was. I bought Guild Wars 2 in advance for many reasons, but I never anticipated that  a real sense of adventure would be one of them.

My advice is, do yourself a favor. Don’t spoil it for yourself by looking up every detailed video you can find. I’ve shown you where to start this particular puzzle, but I’ve been careful not to give too much away. You only get once chance to experience things like this for the first time. Don’t cheat yourself.

Trust me.

Fortune and Glory, kid. Fortune and Glory.

38 Studios – A Survival Horror Story

38 Studios – A Survival Horror Story

Just when it seemed that the horrible sinking of 38 Studios had bottomed out, the story finds a way to get even worse. Not only haven’t employees been paid in well over a month, not only were they all fired without notice earlier this week, now some employees are being told that they’re owe second mortgages on homes that 38 Studios was supposed to sell last year.

Reckoning may be the title of the studio’s only game, but I hope it’s also something that their entire management core has coming. Someone should see jail time for this. Schilling is sending out tweets wishing people well, but hey may want to limit his interactions to finding a lawyer instead.

Taugrim – “The Business Models for MMORPGs Must Evolve”

Taugrim – “The Business Models for MMORPGs Must Evolve”

I admire and respect Taugrim. When playing my Bounty Hunter in SWTOR, I trusted his insight as a skilled player to help me get the most from the class.

I am also finding that I agree with a great deal of his game design philosophy as well. In this case, he has a brilliant article outlining why having both an upfront cost AND a subscription fee is a death sentence for any MMO that isn’t World of Warcraft. (In my opinion, even WoW’s exception to the rule won’t last forever as AAA games with a F2P model exceed WoW in terms of quality.)

He shares my view that Guild Wars 2 will have a dramatic impact on the MMO landscape, providing exceptional gameplay and content for a one-time price.

It is an informative read.

 

The Vanguard – My Guild Wars Insider Column Debuts

The Vanguard – My Guild Wars Insider Column Debuts

I recently began writing a weekly column for Guild Wars Insider which will focus on the Guardian profession. It will run every Wednesday, and will cover every aspect of playing this awesome profession!

Today’s article is a very brief introduction, but I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the GWI team!

Review: Diablo 3

Diablo 3 has released, and the gates of Hell have once more opened upon an unsuspecting world!

Well… okay, more than a few of us were expecting it. It’s been over a decade since Diablo 2, and that Deckard Cain guy won’t shut up about it. We’ve all been waiting for it. Some of us were even fortunate enough to participate in the beta in the months prior to release. I think I’ve killed the Skeleton King Leoric about three dozen times or more across all of my beta characters. At the end, I was farming rare drops off him by rolling a new character over and over again just for that purpose. It’s the only way to farm bosses since Blizzard has nerfed the rare drop rate of bosses after your first kill with a specific character. I’ve tried my hand at the economy using both the gold and real money auction house. I dabbled in crafting. I used every skill on every class and experimented with every rune available. I experienced everything the beta had to offer.

You wouldn’t think the first part of the game would hold any surprises for me, but you’d be wrong. The real surprise was when I finally logged into the game and created my first character, and it still somehow managed to feel new.

Maybe it’s the fact that the difficulty has been scaled up slightly even on normal mode. I’ve noticed that I’m not cutting through enemies in quite the same way as I did pre-launch. My barbarian is still a big ball of carnage, but what used to die in two hits now takes three or four. Unlike in beta, I’ve actually had to use health potions a few times early on. Clusters of enemies still produce kill streaks that make me chuckle menacingly, but they hit a bit harder than before. When facing the Black King, I had to stick and move a bit rather than just going toe to toe. It wasn’t rough going by any stretch, but the slight increase in difficulty on normal mode was noticeable and appreciated. The real question for me was, what dangers would I find later in the game?

BEYOND THE BLACK KING

The answer, which is probably obvious to fans of the genre, is that I found the much the same experience I did at the start of the game all the way through to its end. An ever increasing number and complexity of creatures sought my death in new and more diabolical ways, and when I slaughtered them wholesale they dropped better and better loot. That’s what normal mode is all about.

Love the Barbarian so far, but will he be just as effective on higher difficulties?

The way most veteran players look at it, normal mode may as well be called story mode. The entire play through was fun, no doubt about it, but I never felt I was in any real danger of dying until the very end of the game. My Barbarian rolled through enemies as easily as Ash in Army of Darkness. There was no finesse to it, and I was fine with that. I just found the biggest group of enemies I could and went at them head on until they exploded into a shower of gold and items.

In between the carnage, Diablo 3 does have an interesting story that weaves everything together. While I’m not a huge lore guru, I certainly had no trouble understanding the history of the series and how things led up to where they are now. The game features several interesting characters who have stories of their own, and whose fate I actually cared about. Even the Lords of Hell were more than just generic villains, and they differed enough in their personalities that it was easy to see how they went about planning the downfall of mankind in unique ways. Overall, I found the narrative of the game to be far better than I had anticipated. Blizzard could have taken shortcuts here, but they didn’t. It’s a shame that more developers don’t put more emphasis on making their stories more than just a threadbare excuse to tie action sequences together, even if the story isn’t the game’s central focus. I’m looking at YOU every Call of Duty game ever made.

Another thing I am a fan of is how is the customization options available to my class. I hear that this situation is only temporary (more on that later), but for now it is extremely enjoyable to chat with my  friends who rolled a Barbarian and see how differently we’re playing them. Right now, I’m opting for what I call my Wolverine build. I’m primarily dual wielding, and I make heavy use of the Frenzy ability that increases my attack speed the longer I’m in combat. I put the rune system to good use, finding ways to heal myself while using devastating offensive abilities. I also focus on weapons that give me health every time I hit with them and which further boost my attack speed. To add to this, my preferred armor features passive health regeneration, a great deal of strength and a boost to the amount of healing that health globes provide. I may not hit as hard as some of the other bruisers out there, but it is amazing to see how much punishment I can take considering how quickly I can refill my health meter. It may not be optimal, and I’m not expert on the game, but I can’t argue with the amount of fun I’m having.

Because of that, it was easy at first to overlook Diablo 3’s shortcomings, but there are a handful worth mentioning.

ONLINE ONLY

First and foremost, it’s no secret to anyone that the game’s launch last week didn’t go smoothly. Blizzard’s decision to make the game require an active online connection, even for single player, has turned off a lot of people to the franchise. While it didn’t stop me from buying and playing the game, the fact that I can’t just boot it up on my laptop on the go without first having to make sure I have Wi-Fi available is a black mark. As it stands, I don’t even know if I’ll bother installing it on anything other than my home desktop.

The other problem with this model is that you can’t expect players to be happy about the requirement for an active online connection if you, as the game developer, cannot provide them with an active online connection. Server issues led to downtime during the first few days of the game’s launch, and it frustrated a hell of a lot of people who bought the game just for the single player experience. While things have smoothed out a bit in the days following, Blizzard hasn’t won themselves any fans. Perhaps it will pay dividends in the long term, but that remains to be seen.

Speaking of the single player experience…

DIABLO 3 SEGREGATES YOUR FRIENDS LIST

The experiences my friends and I have had thus far with Diablo 3 has very much been an isolated, single player experience that is briefly interrupted by temporary multiplayer. The reason for this is that each of you plays the game in different ways at different times and with different levels of dedication. Unless you intentionally make a blood pact to only play specific characters together, you’ll find it difficult to share the game with your friends. Of my entire friends list, only a handful seem to have characters within a 10 level spread of my own. This may slow down a bit in a week or so when we’re all knee deep in Hell mode and not progressing as quickly individually, but then again it may not.

While it is a vastly different game, I keep comparing this experience to Guild Wars 2 and how the sidekicking system present in that game will scale down the stats of a higher level player when he enters a lower level zone. I really wish something like that was implemented here, even if it was just an optional check box in a menu somewhere. I’d love to take my mid-30s Barbarian and help out my girlfriend on her level 12 Demon Hunter without it turning into s scenario where I murder minions by the hundreds and she just sits back and collects loot. At that point the game is just a glorified escort quest instead of a shared, mutually challenging experience. The other problem with this is that because I’m so much higher level than she is, I’ll actually reduce her experience gain. In that way I’m actually hurting her experience (literally) instead of helping it.

REAL MONEY AUCTION HOUSE. REAL MONEY CONCERNS.

While the real money auction house isn’t even in the game yet, it is coming soon and is already a cause for serious concern. Not only does Blizzard have to deal with the dreaded “Pay To Win” label that many are sticking Diablo 3 with, but any security breaches that compromise player accounts could potentially result in the loss of real world currency. Even though the game has only been out for a week, and despite Blizzard stating that its decision to enforce a persistent online connection was for our own security, many Diablo 3 accounts have already been hacked. Unless this gets resolved extremely quickly, it could end up turning a lot of people off from the game. This is especially problematic for Blizzard considering this is an issue unique to Diablo 3 that will not be a concern in competing titles like Torchlight 2 and Path of Exile. Any while we’re on the subject…

WHAT GOOD IS THE AUCTION HOUSE ANYWAY?

Players are limited to 10 auctions at a time, but the game throws loot at you like a rigged slot machine. Most of it doesn’t vendor for much, and the rest you can disenchant into crafting components. Anything left over you can place on the auction house, but you have to be extremely selective in your listings. As it stands, prices for goods are all over the map as players blindly post without any real sense of item value. This should resolve itself over time as the player economy matures, but at the moment it’s a crap shoot. The only real usefulness I’ve gained from the auction house thus far is for hunting down very specific gear qualities for Nightmare mode and beyond that fit my play style. Maybe that is the whole point of it. I probably wouldn’t be as sour about the feature if it maxed out at 100 auctions instead of only 10, and I really hope the auction limit is increased in the future. In the short term however, I’ll barely utilize it.

HIGHER DIFFICULTY. LESS OPTIONS OR MORE?

Congratulations! You’ve defeated the game on normal mode! Grab your loot and get ready for Nightmare, Hell and Inferno modes.

Each of these modes requires you to beat the game on the previous difficulty level in order to unlock it. Each is progressively more deadly with enemies who are tougher and smarter, and who drop greater rewards. In an ideal game setting, you could defeat these modes still playing your character in the same manner as you did in normal mode, only with greater skill. But is this really the case with Diablo 3?

To its credit, Diablo 3 offers an almost hidden feature called Elective Mode. Turning this option on means your ability choices are no longer constrained by their category. In the case of my Barbarian, this means I can run without a Defensive skill at all, and instead use that slot for another offensive ability. At the start of Nightmare mode, that is exactly what I am doing. I’ve opted to swap my Defensive skill for the chance to use an additional Secondary skill. In this case, it is the Rend ability. I’ve also chosen to double up on my Tactics, using both Battle Rage and War Cry for the buffs they give and because I have an ability that makes each of these shouts heal me over time. I won’t sit here and claim it is an optimal build, but it’s certainly fun to play, and I appreciate having options like this available.

How long will I be able to get away with it? How long can I really play my character the way I want to? From the accounts I’m hearing from other Barbarians who are way ahead of me, then answer is not for very long. In Hell mode (and Inferno mode after) greater and greater emphasis is placed on Defensive skills since the Barbarian is forced into melee range with creatures that can kill him in the blink of an eye. Gone are the days of being a cyclonic juggernaut of rage fueled destruction. Now you’re hiding behind a shield and running away until your Defensive abilities come off cooldown. I understand the practicality of it. You shouldn’t be able to always stand toe to toe and trade blows with dozens of demons, but it would be nice to have options other than turtle, nuke and kite. If the game really boils down to just that over and over again for my Barbarian, then I won’t be playing him long term. I’ll be forced to reroll a ranged class that allows me to adapt my play style at higher levels and not totally reverse it. There is a big difference between those two, and only one of them is fun.

THE JUDGEMENT

Diablo 3 was well worth the wait, but it isn’t perfect and it isn’t for everyone. Learning skills as you go and implementation of the rune system aren’t popular features with some Diablo purists, but I love them. I still find there is an acceptable level of customization to be found in the game without getting bogged down with old mechanics. The same can be said for the lack of town portal scrolls. Diablo 3 gives you the ability to port to a safe place at will. Some will call that catering to casuals. I think of it as removing an artificial and useless “feature” that got in the way of how I played other Diablo titles.

I’ve found the cinematics, art style, voice work and sound effects all to be superior. It may not be as dark and consistently foreboding a color palette as some where hoping for, but it is certainly nice to look at.

Blizzard knows how to troll their detractors. I’ll give them that much. To anyone who complained the colors were too bright in D3, this secret level is just for you!

While I wish it was easier to make Diablo 3 into a multiplayer experience, I’m hopeful that in the weeks and months to come this will be less of an issue. For now, I’m mostly content taking on the game in single player while chatting with my friends individually.

I already feel like I’ve got my money’s worth out of the game, but then again, I only payed for a downloaded standard edition. If I had fallen for Blizzard’s Annual Pass “deal” for WoW and the price of this game was a full, contractually obligated year of propping up their stale MMO’s subscription numbers, then I’d probably be ticked off. Thankfully that isn’t the case.

If you’re a fan of the dungeon crawler genre, and you aren’t turned off by the online requirement, real money auction house or the emphasis on the single player experience, then I’d absolutely suggest picking it up.

Copernicus Revealed! (But will we ever play it?)

Remember Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? I barely do. I played it a little, and got a few hours into its world and story, but it never clicked with me. It received decent reviews, and I know a lot of people out there who love the title, but I’m just not one of them. To me, Reckoning seemed like a Fable reboot set in a generic world. The cartoonish art style and bland voiceover work didn’t impress me. The lore failed to engage me, or give me a reason to care about what I was doing. I got a kick out of the combat style for a bit, and I enjoyed the finishing moves for awhile, but it got repetitive very quickly for me. Nothing about it gave me a reason to want to rush home to play it after work, or to set aside other titles in order to finish it. It isn’t a bad game, but I found it disappointing given everything it was built up to be at point of sale.

What really sucks is that I wanted to love it. I wanted it to be great. Curt Schilling (yes, THAT one) is the man behind 38 Studios, and while I may not be a fan of the baseball teams he pitched for, the man has the infectious enthusiasm about games that only comes from being an avid player. Aside from his natural ability to throw a baseball and the millions of dollars he made doing it, Curt is a gamer just like the rest of us. He even went so far as to sink $30 MILLION of his own money into his game company. If that isn’t passionate dedication, I don’t know what is, and I personally admire him for it.

The downside of passion is it comes from the heart, not the head.

Now Curt and his company are on the ropes, and are up to their necks in debt while still trying to promote the development of their Copernicus MMO. Being unable to meet payroll isn’t a sign that the quality of business decisions being made at 38 Studios matched their enthusiasm. There is a comprehensive article on the Forbes website that has more of the gritty details.

I really hope they’re able to pull through. Curt is exactly the kind of person who should be making games. If you need any confirmation of that, I encourage you to watch the full video below of the MMORPG panel from PAX East 2012. Curt isn’t reading from cue cards. He doesn’t speak like a man who was fed what to say by PR and Marketing reps. He speaks like a gamer, because he’s one of us.

I just hope his total contribution to the hobby we all love isn’t just one mediocre title and a cautionary financial tale.