Sunday, 22 October 2017

Is Path of Fire A Better Expansion Than Heart Of Thorns? : GW2

No. It's not.

Oh, you want more than that? Okay, then. Here goes...

Looking back at the posts I wrote about Heart of Thorns when it was new, what comes across more than anything is how surprised and delighted I was by just how much I liked it. My first-day impression was overwhelmingly positive: "The whole game feels like someone took it into the yard, ran the hose over it, washed off the dust then buffed it up until it just shines."

A few days later I observed "By far the most frustrating thing about Heart of Thorns is having to choose between playing it and blogging about it." (Not a problem I've encountered with Path of Fire, by the way). I took a day off work to make a long weekend for the HoT launch and the only downside I could find was "I wish I'd taken a week. It's been very irksome, having to go to work every day only to spend most of the time daydreaming about playing." (Ditto)

My upbeat reaction to Heart of Thorns, which continued and indeed strengthened the further into the expansion I progressed, wasn't shared by everyone. Over the course of the next six months there were course corrections aplenty as ArenaNet attempted to right the wallowing ship until finally the Captain was cast adrift and the crew turned back for safer waters.

This time has been very different. The general response to the second expansion has been far more enthusiastic than the critical mauling the first received. The forums are, by forum standards, warm and fuzzy and I couldn't begin to count the number of in-game conversations I've seen comparing PoF favorably to HoT.

I regret to say that I'm not really feeling it. My loss, I'm sure.

It's not that Path of Fire is in any way a poor expansion. It's not. It's perfectly fine. Fair value for money. Spectacular to look at. Entertaining. All of that. No, the problem is that, as I suspected almost from the outset, it doesn't have a hook.

What's clear from my posts about Heart of Thorns is that for all its supposed problems GW2's first expansion dug its claws into me from the start and never let go. I found the change in emphasis exhilarating.

Back then, when the furor was at its hottest, I wrote "I do believe these design decisions, which must be difficult to make at the best of times, have been taken with the best interests of the players in mind. Often players really don't have the clearest view of what's good for the long-term health of the game." That seems bitterly ironic in hindsight.

Path of Fire represents a major retrenchment from the position taken by Heart of Thorns. It's easier and more accommodating. It's populist and crowd-pleasing. Mounts are the exemplar: far more so than gliders, they represent a marketable move towards the mainstream, as the enormously successful introduction of mount skins to the gem store at the first opportunity amply demonstrates.

You could interpret all of this as a welcome move towards a less paternalistic, more egalitarian approach. You might say it's just giving the people what they want. You might recognize it as a business belatedly acknowledging commercial reality. Or you might see it as a climb-down of massive proportions, a battered and bruised team throwing in the towel in the face of unrelentingly hostile criticism.

It's all of that and plenty more but what it undoubtedly is, more than anything, is a decision predicated on necessity. Heart of Thorns under-performed commercially as we know, unequivocally, from the subsequent NCSoft quarterly reports. Making the game more challenging resulted in less money coming in. The hope is that making it easier will reverse that trend.

The problem for me is that I never found Heart of Thorns to be in the least part "difficult" to begin with. I found it to be pitched almost perfectly to match my limited skills. I described HoT as "solo heaven... a classic interpretation of the MMORPG solo experience" but I also loved the signature GW2 open raid play, which reached its apogee in the mesmerizing Dragon's Stand meta event.

Filling out the then-new Masteries, opening the Elite specs on all eight classes and completing the lengthy and enjoyable collections for the associated Ascended weapons kept me busy and engaged for months and I was still eagerly running Dragon's Stand on new characters well into the following year.

Indeed, once Heart of Thorns dropped, I didn't spend much time anywhere else in Tyria (other than World vs World) for a good, long while. That has very much not been the case with Path of Fire.

It took a few sessions to finish the story, which was, at best, alright. A bit thin. Unengaging. Having seen it through, I have no desire to do it over on any other character. Certainly not now and quite possibly not ever.

Acquiring the four advertised mounts turned out to be exceptionally simple. Completing the masteries for them has been quick and easy too, which is probably just as well because there don't seem to be many worth making the effort to acquire. Thin, once again, is how I'd describe that offer.

If it wasn't for the hidden mount, the Griffin, the whole mount thing would have been a bit of a bust for me. The Griffin quest remains the highlight of my expansion experience so far. Shame it only lasted a handful of sessions. I wish it had been longer. Or per character not per account.

Path of Fire does include a new, Elite specification for every Class, along with a Collection for a new Ascended weapon to go with it. Exactly the same set-up as Heart of Thorns, in other words, about which I was so enthusiastic last time.

The difference is that back then I barely had any Ascended weapons. The opportunity to "quest" for genuine upgrades was exciting. Chances for meaningful, vertical progression in GW2 don't come along every day - or every year.

This time around, I already have Ascended weapons for every character I play regularly and multiples for most.  What's more, the new Elite specs for the classes I play most regularly don't appeal. I will not be changing from Tempest to Weaver or from Druid to Soulbeast so the new Ascended weapons would languish in the bank, unused.

I'll probably get them in the end, just for the skins and to have something new to do, but therein lies the real problem. Path of Fire is fun enough but little or nothing in it seems necessary. I have the mounts but I don't use them if I can avoid it  because they're awkward and clunky. I'd rather run. Or glide. I'm not excited by the new Elites. The new armor collections are, it goes without saying, hideous and unwearable.

Exploring the maps is enjoyable, or rather it was, for a while, but once the visual novelty wore off I confess I began to find them a bit...samey. As I've said, I'm not much of a one for map completion, but I'll probably get it done eventually. It's hardly what I'd call a hook, though.

It's not quite a month since Path of Fire launched and I missed the first few days, yet I already have the feeling I'm close to being done with it. Not with GW2, which I'm playing every day just like always, just with the expansion itself. I'm spending most of my time either in WvW or pootling about in Core Tyria ot the Heart of Maguuma. I even did map completion in Bloodstone Fen the other day.

I've gone back to doing The Maw and Jormag several times a week for no reason other than I like doing them. It'll be Teq next and Auric Basin. I miss the camaraderie of those huge events. Bounties, are no substitute for real World Bosses or map metas, that's for sure.

And of course there's the Halloween event, Shadow of the Mad King, which is in full flow right now. There must be scores, maybe hundreds of instances of the Labyrinth running 24/7. I've been there more than anywhere this week, not because I need anything from the event but because it's good-natured, communal fun.

Maybe there's some of that, somewhere, in the Crystal Desert. I'm not seeing much of it but that could just be me. Thing is, I've spent so little time in any of the Path of Fire zones lately that I can't even estimate how popular they remain. Megaserver technology will ensure there are at least a few fullish ones for the foreseeable future, I'm sure, but unless and until some future update adds a compelling reason to travel I may not be there to notice.

All of which isn't to denigrate Path of Fire as an expansion. It is, as I said, perfectly fine, as far as it goes. It's safe, unambitious and a little bit obvious but those aren't necessarily bad things. Not at first.

In the good old days, when EverQuest knocked out a full expansion every six months, if you didn't particularly like one it didn't much matter. There'd be another along soon enough. Even nowadays EQ and EQ2 players only have to wait a year (not to mention the increasing feeling that we're fortunate to be getting expansions at all, given the age of the games).

For GW2 it matters a bit more than that. Expansions are a Really Big Deal both in absolute terms for the immediate effect on the bottom line and as an increasingly rare opportunity to expand the audience via reviews, press coverage and word of mouth. I'll be very surprised (and absolutely delighted) if we see GW2's third expansion before 2019 so, with a minimum two-year wait between them, expansions need to have staying power.

I'm not convinced Path of Fire does.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Oh, Calamity! : EQ2

Yesterday marked the official pre-launch of EQ2's fourteenth expansion, Planes of Prophecy. The actual launch doesn't come until the end of November, the 28th to be precise, but if you can't wait you can pre-order now and get instant access to the beta.

I happened to be at home when the livestream began and I didn't seem to have anything better to do than watch it. I went to Twitch first, assuming that's where it would be, but apparently Twitch is so last year now. Facebook Live is the place to go.

That made it a first for me. I don't have a Facebook account but apparently that doesn't matter. And I have to say that it was a cleaner interface and a less fussy experience all round than Twitch.

I don't know if you can still view the presentation - I couldn't find it this morning but I didn't look very hard. I wouldn't bother trying to find it anyway, unless you want to gaze in wonder on the metal god that is Kyle "Kander" Vallee, who looks exactly as I imagine all the CCP devs must look like but probably none of them do...

Ship ahoy!

The forty-five minute promo was MC'd by the somewhat nervous Community Co-ordinator Roxxlyy, who looked, in the words of Ed Reardon, about twelve years old. As reported by the late EQ2Wire, she was an intern until very recently but SOE and DBG have a long history of battlefield promotions so that's not too surprising.

Roxxlyy, Kander, Gninja and someone I forget ran through various highlights of the expansion, including the Prestige home, the Planes of Innovation and Magic (the latter being the expansion's open-world zone), a raid dungeon and the new Crossbow weapon, usable by all classes, which levels up using xp. Plus another ten levels of course.

There wasn't a huge amount of hard information but there was more than enough to convince me - not that I needed any convincing. The full details of the three versions (Standard, Collectors and Premium) are laid out here. I have never bought anything but the basic model of any EQ or EQ2 expansion yet and this is no exception. I have, however, already pre-ordered the Standard one. With the 10% Members' discount it was less than £25, which I think is very good value indeed.

I make it 18.30 hours precisely by my chronometer. (Actually this is the /salute animation - very Roman!)

The only bonus you get with the Standard is the Clockwork Calamity illusion but it's a very nice perk indeed. In keeping with the strongly nostalgic - not to say retro - theme of the expansion, this is modeled on the classic EverQuest clockwork model, complete with key in the back.

Star animator Ttobey has hooked it up with fifteen emote animations plus the usual idling suite and you can ride and fly all mounts with the illusion displaying. Well, no, actually. They said you could but you can't. Not if, like me, you have wings. You just hang in the air, apparently unsupported, because while the various "wing" mounts go in your Mount slot they actually display from the Cloak slot - I think.

Anyway, a levitating clockwork looks pretty good, although they maybe should switch off the clanking "running" sounds. The animations are fantastic. So good I took the trouble to make a short video to show off a few of them.

The Clockwork isn't just about looks. It's also a buff and a substantial one. Every recent expansion has come with a buff like this attached but I always forget to use them. So much so that, when I checked this morning, I found the last two still unclaimed.

Given that I regularly complain about how slow the xp is in each expansion, especially when new levels are involved, it seems counter-intuitive (or possibly idiotic) that I don't take advantage of the buffs designed to alleviate that, not least the 10% direct buff to xp gain.

Have you really got nothing better to do than just hang about?
The problem has always been that the buffs come from an item that you place in your house and go visit and I just never get around to doing it. Also, they have always been one per account, meaning every character has to go to the same house to get the buff.

This time is different: the buff is an illusion cast on yourself from your spellbook and every character gets their own. No excuse not to use it this time. Plus, if I recall correctly from the presentation, the buff stacks with previous buffs from the house items. So I suppose I'll have to place those after all.

There's no NDA on the beta so no doubt lots more hard information will come out over the next few weeks. Also, I'm sure, a huge amount of complaints because if there's one thing EQ2 players know how to do it's complain.

I think EQ2 is now the best value MMORPG available. Were you to start now as a brand new player. for the extremely reasonable price of the Standard expansion you'd get all thirteen previous expansions. And the base game, of course, is free. That's a lot of content and it's top quality, too.

If you're a returning player who may have fallen out of range of the current end-game, note that you get a Level 100 boost with all versions of Planes of Prophecy. As for gear, which was a problem for some at the beginning of the last expansion, well, if Yun Zi's gear wasn't enough, there's a Quartermaster in Plane of Magic who will give (not sell) you a complete set of armor that's a slight upgrade from the Panda's set.

I don't plan to do anything in the beta even though there are some good rewards for doing so. It's only a month or so until the real thing. I can wait. I might pop in to take a screenshot or two, though, and the beta forums are open to all to read, so I'm not going to try and keep my launchday experience entirely pristine. I'm sure there'll be plenty to discover even so.

The inevitable doomsayers are already talking about this being the last expansion EQ2 will ever get and crowing about the imminent demise of the game itself. On what evidence I'm not sure, other than that no MMO can go on forever and EQ2 has been around for a while now.

If longevity was based on quality rather than fashion, though, EQ2 would be safe for the rest of the century. Long may it continue!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Over, Under, Sideways, Down : GW2

Over the years, one of the regular criticisms I've heard about GW2 is how the very concept of "Map Completion" undermines any genuine sense of exploration. How can it be a game for true explorers, the argument goes, if every Point of Interest is marked on the map - literally?

The truth, of course, is that map completion isn't for Explorers at all - it's for Achievers. Those people who love ticking things off a list and getting a badge at the end to say they ticked them all.

If Explorers complete maps it's by default. Sheer nosiness leads them into every last crevice, cave and corner and if those little boxes tick themselves along the way. well that's how serendipity works. I came across an excellent example of this yesterday in Crystal Oasis.

I hadn't set out to explore anything. I was actually looking for one of the new ranger pets. For Path of Fire I've been trying to look up as little as possible out of game and although I've had my eyes open for them since day one, so far I have only spotted one of the Juveniles, the Jacaranda.

Then one day, while I was following the storyline on my Elementalist (something else I hadn't planned on doing but which just somehow happened while I was meaning to do something else) I caught sight of the Juvenile Sand Lion as I was running past. I made a mental note of where it was and a couple of days later, when I next logged my druid in, I took him over to get it.

Should have taken me a couple of minutes. Turned out to be more like three hours. First I got caught up in some events, then I saw a chest up a cliff in a cave, then I noticed the huge "haven't been killed in a while" bonuses on the mobs in the caves so I farmed them, then I began bunny-hopping up some nearby cliffs to see where they went...

An hour or so later, as I found myself flapping along on my griffin, I spotted something below me that looked hauntingly familiar. Swooping down, I landed on a rope and bamboo bridge that looked for all the world like something out of The Bazaar of the Four Winds, the long-lost, much-missed home of the Zephyrites.

At this point I got all excited. Was this where the remnants of the Zephyrite airship fleet ended up after the debacle in Dry Top? It's always been clear that not all the ships came down there but we've had no news of where they might have gone.

First I climbed to the very, very top of the bamboo structures, poking into every nook, using my griffin, my glider and my bunny to get as high as I could. I saw paper lanterns and familiar platforms. This had to be Zephyrite work.

Nothing I found explained how it might have come to be there so I descended again to see if there were clues at ground level. Which is where I discovered not only clues, but NPCs talking about the mysterious people who'd built these structures and how they'd left en masse in a flotilla of airships, never to be seen again. I also learned how the abandoned town had become a home for refugees fleeing the conflict in the South.

And finally, right at the bottom, beside the road, I found a Heart, one of the pieces of busy-work that GW2 uses as a quest substitute. Also one of the things required for Map Completion, marked on the map, pointed to by NPC Scouts and pinged to your attention by the UI whenever you get close.

What's more, I'd been in the town before: several times. With my both druid and my elementalist. What I had never done during any of those visits was what Telwyn so astutely recommends we should all do when we come to a place we've never been before: look up.

Thus it was that I came to discover the original home of the Zephyrites, before they took the winds in their unfeasible wooden craft. It was an evening of discovery, excitement and above all exploration. Yes, I left with a box ticked but the session was anything but a box-ticking exercise.

That's how GW2 works best for explorers: if you come at it sideways. Or from above. Or below. Any damn way but by following the map.

And then I went and got my pet!

Three more to find (I think). Might have them by Wintersday at this rate.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Travel Across Norrath Fast And For Free! (Conditions May Apply) : EQ2

All MMORPGs are fiendishly complicated. Even the newest and freshest can be confusing and overwhelming but once you're a few years in and a few expansions up you don't just need an instruction manual - you need an encyclopedia.

Fortunately, most MMOs that generate even the smallest degree of traction with an audience soon develop just that: a wiki. Wikis are great. I rely on them. They have one big shortcoming though: you can only look something up on the wiki if you know - or at least suspect - it exists.

As the responses to my post about GW2's LFG tool demonstrated, you can be a very experienced and knowledgeable player with high level characters and hundreds, if not thousands, of hours played yet  still be unaware of significant mechanics and systems in the MMO you're playing. I seem to find some new thing I didn't know about, but which has apparently been around for months or even years, every week or two.

My latest revelation comes from EQ2 and since I know there are a few people reading this blog who play I thought I'd share it. It was a big surprise to me and it's something that's going to come in very handy indeed.

With EQ2 Wire going into retirement and the Zam network having mothballed its EQ2 site, one of the few news sources still up and running is Niami Denmother's venerable and invaluable EQ2 Traders. It's always been the go-to for information and news on everything to do with tradeskills and decorating but it often pops up nuggets of more general interest.

One such is yesterday's post on Fast Travel. Now, I did know that EQ2 has a form of fast travel that's almost identical to GW2's waypoint system but I'm guessing that even that may be a surprise to some regular players. For a while now, since 2013 I believe, it's been possible to open your map, click an icon on the map and be transported there instantly - or as instantly as loading times allow, anyway.

Even though it's the exact same system I use every day in Tyria I've never used it in Norrath for one simple reason: it costs Station Cash each time. Not much SC, just a smidge, but still. It's always seemed like a bit of a waste, although given that I acquire SC far faster than I ever spend it I'm not quite sure in what context it would be "wasteful" to use it even on such a minor convenience.

Well, as of this evening, when I read the EQ2 Traders post, that concern is flipped on its head. It seems that unlimited, free use of the Fast Travel system has for some time been one of the perks of  All Access membership. Which I have.

I just logged in to try it and it works just fine. Simply open the map and click the rightmost icon at the top of the screen, the odd thing that looks a bit like a feathered head-dress but which reveals itself on mouseover as "Quick Access Teleport". From there you get another map to select the zone you want.

Next the zone map appears with the same orange feather thing marking every available travel point - bells, spires, druid rings and so on. Click the location you desire and confirm you really want to travel and off you go!

Couldn't be simpler. Except apparently it could, because according to EQ2 Traders there's a command you can macro. Only I tried it and I can't get it to work. And even if I could, then I'd probably need to explain how to make Macros in EQ2, which is a whole other post entirely...

Anyway, there it is for what it's worth: free Fast Travel for subscribers Members. No more using my Anchor of Wanderer's Dock to get to a bell, then using that bell to go Dropship Landing in Moors of Ykesha if the final destination is somewhere you can only get to by Spire or Ring.

Wish I'd known that before I did all nine of Yun Zi's quests!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Using GW2's LFG Tool For Fun And Profit

Guild Wars 2 is an MMO which, by design and intent, relies more heavily than most on co-operation between players. In large part the underlying ethos of the game rests on the assumption that players will help each other as a matter of course. For that to happen they need to be able to find each other.

Almost all content in GW2, from the smallest local event to the mightiest of World Bosses, scales to some degree but by no means everything is intended to be soloable or even single-groupable. Many major events or event chains, like Tequatl, Triple Trouble or the Orr Temples, call for the equivalent of a raid force, while map-wide metas, found in just about every map added in the last three years, are most successful when everyone on the map joins in.

Click me!

Back in 2012, when the game launched, the expectation seemed to be that there would just somehow always be enough players around to get things done in a busy, bustling world where "Dynamic Events" popped all the time. That worked well enough for a while but when the first wave of explorers reached Orr they soon discovered that more organization was needed to succeed in the increasingly lengthy, complex event chains they found there.

Some of these are more useful than others...
At that time, the population was spread across a large number of individual servers but even then there were provisions for players to server-hop using "Guesting", a now all-but-forgotten feature of GW2 that ANet promoted heavily before launch but didn't actually get around to adding to the game until 2013. Guesting was intended to allow friends to play together even if they happened to be on different servers but players soon worked the system into a de facto group-finder for large-scale or hard-to-find events.

For a while that worked well enough, albeit in a make-do and mend, Heath Robinson fashion. There was even an out-of-game website that monitored which Orr Temples were open so players could readily Guest to servers where the vendors they needed were available.

All that changed in the spring of 2014 with the coming of the Megaserver. Server identities were
retained for World vs World but in every other respect all GW2 players occupied the same gamespace. Except not really.

We don't know how many people play GW2 or what the concurrencies are. Neither do we know, exactly, the population capacity of the individual maps. We do know, however, that even before the base game went F2P, sales were numbered in the millions, while the cap on an individual map is in the low hundreds. Added to that, the population doesn't spread itself evenly: it clumps.

This is the one I use most
To accommodate increased demand when a World Boss spawns or a popular event chain begins, the Megaserver technology spins up extra instances of specific maps as required. It also closes them down when players move on to the next feeding frenzy, warning those that remain that the map is underpopulated and bribing them with an experience bonus if they choose to be redirected to a busier instance.

You can sometimes see the evidence of just how many instances of a popular map are available at once if you hang around after whatever big event drew people there finishes. I've been redirected up to five times from instance to instance of Frostgorge Sound as the The Claw of Jormag is defeated slightly out  of sync by succeeding maps.

While Guesting still works and although there are a few arcane ways to influence which instance of a map you spawn into, Megaservers effectively put an end to elective map-hopping. Fortunately, ANet moved to replace the system players had evolved with an increasingly sophisticated and effective Looking For Group tool.

Three in the morning on the West Coast
but there's plenty happening in Vabbi
Unfortunately, it appears from comments and questions I often hear, both in and out of game, the LFG system doesn't seem to be nearly as well-known or understood as it should be. That's a shame, because, after several years of iteration, it's one of the most flexible, effective LFG systems I've used in any MMO.

It's so good, in fact, that knowing how to use it can be a game-changer, literally and figuratively.  There's a detailed explanation of how it works on the wiki but it makes it sound more daunting than it actually is. Instead, I recommend logging into the game and playing around with it.

Just click on the second icon from the left on the row at the top left of your screen, the one that looks like a bunch of heads. That opens the "Contacts and LFG" window. Then click on the second icon down, the magnifying glass, which opens LFG itself.

From there you can see a list of categories, each of which opens into a further list of sub-categories. Most of them are self-explanatory, although your guess as to what "Adventurers Guild" or "Fountains of Rurikton" might mean is as good as mine.

I don't know who Aerl the Silent is
and it appears no-one else does either.
The relevant one for most casual players trying to find active maps for big events is the very first on the list, "Open World". It lumps the base game into two categories, which is where you'll find groups or squads doing the Orr Temples (yes, people still do them), Champ Trains (yes, they still exist) and the like. Below that comes "World Bosses", very useful if you want the biggies like Jormag or The Shatterer, or to find where the WB Train is right now (there's always one running somewhere).

After that you'll see a separate entry for every map added to the game since Dry Top. With all those maps having some form of mapwide meta, finding a currently active map can be essential if you're doing more than just pottering.

The LFG tool is easy to understand and intuitive to use but there are some important aspects that won't be immediately obvious. Firstly, don't worry if, like Aywren, you find initiating contact with strangers stressful. In LFG no-one expects you to socialize. Or speak.

Things can be as specific as you like
Indeed, they don't even expect you to stay grouped. The primary function of the Open World section of LFG is to allow you to find an instance of the map where people are trying to get a specific thing done. Groups or, more commonly, Squads, are formed first and foremost to bring people to that map, a practice known as "Taxiing".

The LFG entry will often say "Taxi" in the  description. The idea here is that you click and join the squad and use it to transfer to the active map. You may then leave the squad. Sometimes the description will even ask you to leave when you're safely in the map because the map can hold more than one squad's worth of people and the squad is merely a conduit to be used until the map is filled.

The key thing to remember here is that when you join the squad you may not immediately arrive in the right instance. If, for example, there are 30 people in the squad but the little icons for 25 of them are greyed out, you're in the wrong instance.

LFG is mostly LFS these days
That's normal. You just need to right-click one of the greyed-out icons and select the option to join that person in their map from the drop-down menu. (Remember that whilst you can join a squad from anywhere, you have to be in the relevant map to swap to another instance of that same map - if you want to do Tequatl you must be in Sparkfly Fen, for example).

You may have to do that more than once to find the right instance because players in the squad may be spread across several at the time you join. Keep going until you hit the one where most of the icons in squad are active not greyed-out.

You may also find that the main instance is full and won't let you join. If you really want to do the event, don't give up. Keep clicking on one of the icons in the full instance, especially if you can see from squad chat that the event has begun. People go link-dead and drop out or have to leave for whatever reason all the time; in events lasting anything from ten or fifteen minutes (Tequatl) to an hour or more (Dragon's Stand) there's a good chance you'll get in eventually.

If you open LFG to look for a map for a particular event and there isn't anything showing, don't be afraid to start a party or squad for it yourself. Just click on "Advertise Your Group" at the bottom of the window, write a description and off you go.

It pays to advertise
Anyone can form a party or a limited squad of up to ten people (technically known as a Raid Squad). For the full 50-strong squad you have to own a Commander tag, which costs 300 gold. It's not worth considering unless you play a lot, I'd say. I have one and I've found it very useful on occasion but it's far from essential.

Obviously if you're starting a party for something small and specific you may have to run it as well, just as you would in any MMO but if its a big event then, as before, don't worry that it will mean you have to lead or organize or chat if you don't want to - you can make it clear in the description that you're just taxiing people in to get things started. Once a critical mass of people forms, some born leader will step up and take over - they always do.

I'm sure there's more about LFG that I've forgotten so please chip in with a comment if I've missed something important or obvious. The main thing is to be aware that the LFG tool exists and that, to a considerable degree, the community uses it to make the game work.

If you're finding it a struggle to get content done, if you're not seeing the events you need or there don't seem to be people around to join in when you do find them, it's entirely possible that the solution to all those problems is just a click or two away.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Catbird Seat : GW2

The main reason I pushed forward to the end of Path of Fire's story so quickly was to get my griffon mount. That's not to suggest the griffon is a reward for finishing the storyline. It's not. Would that it were so simple.

No, completion of the main story is merely the prerequisite to open the first Collection that begins a sequence of what any other MMO would call "quests". And they are quests; of course they are.

Seriously, at this point in GW2's development the insistence on avoiding the Q word is nothing less than a fetish. The "Achievement" list is the quest journal, the events window in the upper right corner of the screen is the quest tracker, anyone asking questions in map or guild chat talks about "quests". Only Anet themselves cling to the tattered fig-leaf that supposedly hides the all too plain fact that in this respect at least their game did not break any molds or shatter any paradigms. Rather, after a brief and huffy bid for individuality, it turned around and meekly followed the herd, pretending it wanted to go that way all along.

The Griffon is the fifth of four Mounts in the expansion. Its existence was kept under wraps throughout the short beta and never mentioned in the PR blitz leading up to launch. Once the expansion went Live the existence of the Griffon mount remained a secret for, oh, nearly a day. Inside a week twenty-five thousand players owned one.

I had to wait a little longer than that but I have one now. In theory my quest (yes, I'm going to call it that) should have begun when I came across one of the clues that only begin to appear when your account gets flagged as Story Complete. The appearance of mysterious items in your loot, things like "A Strange Feather" or "A Strange Pellet of Bones and Fur" is supposed to lead you to Beastmaster Ghazal in the Garden of Sebhorin in Vabbi and thence to the Remains of the Last Spearmarshall, a talking corpse on a plateau, where the whole thing really kicks off.

In practice, since I already knew about the mount and the quest from numerous discussions in both guild and map chat, I didn't wait for the feather to drop. Instead I called up Dulfy's truly excellent guide and went straight to the fallen spearmarshal.

I didn't think to note down exactly how long the whole questline took to finish but I did it in several sessions across most of the week so it must have lasted several hours. I imagine it would have taken a lot longer without the guide to follow but the in-game instructions are reasonably clear and once you get the feel for the kind of places the eggs are hidden it's not exceptionally difficult to predict where you're likely to find them.

I have previously described the Path of Fire expansion as one giant jumping puzzle, which is kind of true and kind of not. It would probably be more accurate to describe the entirety of the open world covered by the five new maps as one giant Vista. There's little need for the kind of precision, dexterity or nerve sometimes required to complete GW2's official Jumping Puzzles but doing almost anything, anywhere, requires the kind of loose scramble previously confined to filling out those little map flags.

It turns out that suits me fine. I always loved Vistas. I've loved climbing in MMOs since the days early in the century when I discovered you could scramble across the roofs of Felwithe. There used indeed to be almost a cult of climbers within MMOs, people who would spend hours trying to find ways to reach places the developers never intended them to find, just so they could take screenshots and post them on forums to prove they'd done it.

That kind of organic, geographical, architectural exploration seems to me to be fully in tune with both the spirit and the history of the genre in a way designated Jumping Puzzles are not. Incorporating climbing into a quest seems fair and proper, whereas insisting on completion of an actual JP very much would go very much against the grain.

The many eggs you need to collect for the Griffon quest are placed atop pillars and cliffs that require some thought and ingenuity to reach. I loved it. Even with the guide to follow it necessitated a deal of creative thinking and puzzle-solving. Perfect explorer content in other words. Just as I enjoyed the Ascended Weapon quests in Heart of Thorns a lot more than I appreciated the main story quest, so I had a deal more fun getting my Griffon than following the plot that led to my being able to begin the quest in the first place. It was also in quest of my Griffon that I began, grudgingly, to learn to rely on my lesser mounts.

Path of Fire is an expansion designed around a single feature: Mounts. They are required in a much more intense and sustained manner than its predecessor Heart of Thorns ever required Gliding. It's not only that some areas are literally impossible to access without a Mount (specifically those that are accessible only via Jackal portals); it's more that although you can get to most places by clambering or gliding, it's so much easier to bounce on a bunny or glide on a skimmer; you feel you're wasting your time trying to do it any other way.

I'm getting used to the mounts but I still dislike them. I don't suffer from motion sickness using them so that's not an issue for me. I just find them annoying, clunky and badly designed. They are, however, unavoidable. It's not just the otherwise difficult to access locations: it's becoming increasingly apparent that any activity that isn't undertaken entirely alone is going to demand a mount for the simple reason that mounts move at twice the speed of a player on foot. If you don't crack out a mount you simply can't keep up. Given the size of the maps, if you try to go it on foot, by the time you arrive at an event it's likely to have ended.

I finally had to admit that to myself last night, when I joined a Bounty Train for the first time. Bounties are PoF's answer to Core Tyria's World Bosses,  legendary monsters that drop decent loot and take what would in other games be described as a pick-up raid to kill. Unlike World Bosses, Bounties spawn when players take the bounty from a board in various settlements. This makes them ideal for one of GW2's favorite activities - the zerg train.

I was criss-crossing the Elon Riverlands searching for Mastery Points when someone announced they were tagging up and starting a train to do all the bounties on the map. It took about an hour and it made for a pleasant, entertaining and profitable session. It occurred to me that what Anet have effectively done here is to refine and institutionalize a player invention, which they previously disapproved of so heartily the nerfed it into the ground, the old Champ Train. I guess that's what they mean when they say they improve the game by "iteration".

After I missed a kill because I couldn't keep up with the zerg I caved and mounted up. For general overland travel I'm leaning towards using the Jackal. It's small, it doesn't lurch about and the triple-portal zips it forward at incredible speed. The Raptor yaws and sways like a yacht in a gale, the Springer is useless for anything but going straight up and the Skimmer gets stuck on hip-height ledges. The jackal it is.

For now but not for ever. The unmastered griffon is of limited use for ground travel, launching itself  in short hops then falling back to earth like one of those failed nineteenth-century attempts at powered flight. Once I have all those Masteries done, however, it will be tantamount to a fully functioning flying mount, as you can see in this lovely video.

Lest I give a false impression, I should emphasize there's a lot more to the Griffon quest than just collecting eggs. You have to visit all five maps, complete some specific Events, some of which can't be soloed, some of which have their own pre-reqs. You also need to complete two Hearts on each map to open the vendors, from each of whom you need to buy an item that costs 25 gold, giving the Griffon a monetary cost of 250 gold, which, in GW2, is not pocket change.

All that done you then have to complete an instance set in Kormir's Library, familiar from the main story but now overrun with demons seeking to reclaim it for Abaddon. Dauntingly, you need to kill ten Elites to get ten keys to open ten chests. There's a lot of angst about this on the forums because Elites can be a tough ask solo but I found it to be easy and enjoyable. I also found the chests easy to find. I only had to refer to Dulfy's guide once.

Finally, when you return to the fallen spearmarshal, a boss mob spawns and there's a big fight. To my considerable surprise it's fun and it lasts about as long as a fight should before wearing out its welcome.

All in all I found the Griffon quest to be just about ideally tuned for my personal tastes, preferences and abilities. There's a particular sweet spot for GW2 content that this exemplifies, along with the Caladbolg quest and the HoT Ascended Weapons collections. Curiously, this is also the content that comes with some of the rewards that I find most desirable. I wonder if the same team is behind the design of all of them?

The Griffon quest is definitely the most fun I've had in Path of Fire so far. Now it's back to the steady work of finding those Mastery points and filling out that experience bar. Which, if I'm honest, is pretty good fun too.

Onwards and, eventually, upwards!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Path of Fire: First Impressions Part 2 - The Story


There will be spoilers. Major spoilers. 

UltrViolet has been writing about his experiences as he plows through GW2's Living World Season 3 storyline, the one that leads directly into the main narrative of the second expansion, Path of Fire. I've found his posts most helpful in codifying how the style and execution differs between the content we're used to seeing drip-fed into the live game and the great dollop that's been served up to us in the expansion.

The Guild Wars franchise has always been unusually narrative-driven for an MMORPG. Of course, there was never any real consensus over whether the original GW was an MMO. Arguably, it was more of a series of single-player/co-op RPG campaigns strung together around a limited multiplayer hub and as such, it relied very heavily for its PvE content on linear storylines.

That was something ArenaNet attempted to expand and adapt for GW2, first with the Personal Story and later with the Living Story/World "seasons". It hasn't always worked nor always been well received. The way narrative is handled in Path of Fire could be seen as a reversion to what worked in the older game.

As UltrViolet's account emphasizes over and over again, the live game's storyline is frequently muddled, confusing and unclear. There are a lot of characters. They come and go with huge hiatuses between appearances. It's an approach that requires and expects both a good memory and an extraordinary amount of background knowledge from the player.

Never mind the plot, look at the scenery!
Even if you have both the thread can still be difficult to follow. The plot frequently involves endless digressions and discursions, some of which can only be explained away as filler, serving no narrative function whatsoever. It can feel exhausting and many players wonder if the effort can be worth it.

The Path of Fire's story isn't like that. The central storyline of the second expansion is possibly the most straightforward presentation of a narrative we've seen in the lifetime of the game.

It begins with The Commander (that's you) hot on the trail of the rogue god Balthazar and it ends when Balthazar dies. Along the way just about all you do is chase the god, fight the god's minions, catch the god, lose the god, chase him some more, finally catch him and then kill him. Then you have a party, there are fireworks, a dragon roars, the earth shakes and you get to wonder whether it was worth it after all.

The cast of characters is heavily reduced from the usual entourage to a small posse: Rytlock, Canach, Kasmeer, Taimi. There are a handful of cameos - Ellen Kiel, Marjory - and a smattering of walk-ons, whose names I forget, none of whom make much of an impression or seem likely to return.

Cannach distances himself from Rytlock's views on religion. Literally.
It's easy to see how the cast was chosen. Kasmeer is there to provide a Greek chorus on the retreat of the human gods. Taimi (who mostly appears as a disembodied voice until the end) is too popular to leave out - plus she's the only one who understands what's going on.

Rytlock and Cannach are both major crowd-pleasers. They spit out sarcastic one-liners like they're auditioning for Larry David and there's a great dynamic between the two of them. The actors who voice them are excellent.

I laughed out loud several times, especially at Rytlock's take on religion, but perhaps the most memorable moment wasn't funny at all. The scene where Rytlock comes across Snaff's ruined golem is beautifully handled and genuinely moving. Or, at least, it is for those of us who read the Guild Wars novelization in which Snaff died. And there's the problem.

It seems much of GW2 is now being written and designed with longtimers like Aywren in mind. The whole expansion relies on call-backs to people, places and events, not from the five-year lifespan of GW2 itself but from the much older heritage of the franchise. Without that emotional anchor you might well feel detached, adrift.

Along with a smaller cast and a linear plot comes significantly simpler gameplay. There's a deal of fighting but it's mostly of the same difficulty you'd encounter solo in the open  world. Actually, I found it easier than that. As for the infamous boss and sub-boss fights, they're widely spaced, fewer in number and uniformly less awful than usual.

Is that an Archbishop fighting a lobster?
Playing my high-survival druid, I did not die once in the PoF storyline, at least not until the final climactic stand-off with Balthazar, and even then I died mostly because I was struggling to figure out the precise mechanics of the fight rather than through any innate difficulty thereof. In the whole of the rest of the story I think I was downed twice but rallied or revived myself before anything finished me off.

I heartily approve of the reduced level of difficulty although I'd prefer it to be easier still and if not easier then certainly faster. The fights may not be as arduous as before but some of them are still mightily tedious. Still, it's a major improvement over the Living World, which itself has been getting easier. Perhaps by next expansion we'll be back to where we started in 2012 although I fear there will be a counter-insurgency at ANet before then and we'll lurch back towards "challenge" once again.

When I say I didn't die I'm leaving out one very major event: the Death of The Commander. It makes absolutely no difference if you're the best raider in the game or the most inexperienced of casuals - you will die in this story at least once. You have to or you can't proceed. It's a huge (and hugely ill-judged) plot point.

The evident drawback to chasing a mad god across a desert is that you might catch him. That happens and along with it the inevitable. He's a god. You're a midget in a romper suit waving a stick. You die.

Oh go on. Just a little one. He likes it really.
Except in Tyria no-one dies, do they? Everyone comes back. Doomsday weapons can destroy your entire nation (Ascalon, Orr) but the next day the entire population returns as Ghosts or Risen. In Elona, you can work all your life for a tyrant-king then the day after you die you find yourself back in the same job, Awakened, only now you don't need to sleep so you get to work nights too.

In the storyline, when Balthazar incinerates you (he's the god of fire as well as war) you wake up in a green-hued purgatory with amnesia. This does not appear to be intended ironically.

You do a bit of business with the locals, fight The Eater of Souls, the worst-designed sub-boss in the entire story (I cheesed him with a strat I read on Dulfy but he's now been nerfed and nerfed hard after numerous entirely justified complaints so you should be able to beat him legit) and then it's back to business as usual.

The reactions of your friends and companions when you literally return from the dead might seem understated - or underwritten - at first. Mostly along the lines of "Oh, you're not dead? Great, well here's what we need to do next". Taimi suggests someone pokes you to see if you're real in what is probably not intended as an hommage to John 20:25.

Then I thought about it. Really, why should anyone be surprised? Or care? The whole of Tyria is designed on the model of The Cat Came Back. And that's a problem. It's not that I'm advocating permadeath or even a harsh death penalty but there has to be some sense of jeopardy, doesn't there? If annihilation by a god is something you can just shrug off then what does any of it matter?

Add to that the the illusion of choice or rather the lack of any such thing. I'm not big on the concept as it applies in video games but a lot of gamers, particularly BioWare fans, find it compelling. Well you can forget it here.

Take the example from Chapter Two, where you spend some time talking to the Amnoon Council about a supposedly crucial decision. I was highly critical of what that implied about ANet's agenda concerning democratic responsibility but I needn't have worried: I was not in possession of all the facts.

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, let me say this: we're all doomed!

The choice the council appears to dump eagerly in your less than capable hands turns out be nothing more than a pat on the head for the funny foreigner. Yes, they wanted to hear what you thought, but they knew you had no clue what you were talking about and they never had any intention of doing what you suggested. The fact they went along with your idea was a complete co-incidence.

I was so taken aback by that little sidebar, which occurs in small-talk at the afterparty, that I forgot to screenshot the conversation. I highly recommend talking to all NPCs at every opportunity, both before and after every event and even during them if you get the chance. Some of the most interesting stuff is hidden away in that incidental dialog.

Lack of agency is a serious problem throughout. Choices that don't matter, deaths that don't mean anything and a final fight in which the Commander seems to play a supporting role to both a magic sword and a baby dragon risk leaving the player on the sidelines, doing all the grunt work but barely sharing the glory.

Just me, then?

Enough detail: how good or bad is the Plane of Fire story, when you put it all together?  Hmm. Hard to say.

That's why these are still first impressions even though I've completed the whole thing. I'd want to do it on a couple more characters before I committed myself as to whether it's an improvement on the Heart of Thorns central story. It's certainly shorter. And easier, although I think the fact that I chose to open all the maps and get all the mounts ahead of time sped things up.

There were some parts I really enjoyed. The visuals, obviously, but the gameplay too. A variety of mechanics, most of which were easy to grasp and straightforward to implement, kept me engaged. I enjoyed controlling an army of Awakened at one point; catching the scouts before they reported my presence was satisfying. There were enough moments like that to keep things entertaining, mostly.

Everyone else comes back, Scarlet. Why not you?
It was interesting to return to Glint's lair and Kormir's library is spectacular. I was very happy to find you get to revisit it towards the end of the Griffon quest collection. A tip: when you get to that part, don't forget to go back to the hidden room. You'll find something there you won't expect. Or someone. I was also very surprised how happy I was to see and hear Scarlet again. I really miss her.

On balance I enjoyed the story for what it was even if, in hindsight, it didn't come to all that much. I could go into a lot of nitpicking detail about what doesn't make sense but the tale's a thin weave that won't stand up to much poking. It has holes enough already.

Best accept it for what it is and keep moving. If there's not all that much to the story itself, at least I did think the way it was told was noticeably superior to previous attempts and that's very welcome.

What I miss most, though, is the mystery. Yes, the narrative through-line since GW2 launched has been chaotic, disordered, incoherent and sometimes insane but I've never found it boring. This wasn't dull but neither did it set me puzzling, the way the Seasons, for all their many, many flaws, tend to do.

When facts are hard to come by speculation thrives and speculation is the lifeblood of never-ending soap-opera stories like this. Unsurprisingly then, it was the enigmatic ending I enjoyed most of all. Where did Aurene fly off to in such a hurry and why was she looking so very pleased with herself? What is Kralkatorrik planning next? Have we saved the world or merely set the stage for some new drama of destruction?

And talking of trailing plot threads, trust me: taunting Palawa Joko through the bars of his cage before returning to the land of the living, leaving him supposedly imprisoned there "for eternity" was not the Commander's smartest move. In Tyria "eternity" lasts about five minutes and Joko is not a forgiving kind of psychopath.

He'll be back and he's going to be mad. Madder. Something to look forward to for next time.

Friday, 6 October 2017

This One Goes To 11 : EQ2, GW2

There are reportedly more than three hundred developers/designers/artists working on GW2. I very much doubt there are thirty working on EQ2. If you asked me which team was more productive I'd have to say the Daybreak squad wins, hands down.

I play both of these MMOs week in, week out. I spend far more time in GW2, partly because of World vs World's endless replayability, partly because it's the most fluid-feeling MMO I've ever played and partly because it's the game Mrs Bhagpuss plays.

Well, it was. She's going through something of an MMO malaise at the moment, not really playing at all. The Path of Fire expansion certainly hasn't fired her enthusiasm. She logged in once, played through the first chapter, logged out and that's the last the game has seen of her since.

I've played GW2 almost non-stop since we got back from holiday but already, only a week and a half or so in from where I started, my attention is wandering. I finished the story on my Druid at the weekend and I have absolutely no desire to do it again on anyone else for a good long while.

I got my Jackal mount two days ago and I'm about halfway through the lengthy "quest" for the Griffon. I've picked up 180 Hero Points without thinking about it and I guess by the time I have the flying lion I'll have filled out the 250 I need for the new Elite Spec.

I don't even know what the spec called, that's how uninterested in the new Elites I am. The only one I've read up on is Weaver for the Elementalist, which sounds horrible and by general consensus is not as good as Tempest from HoT.

I barely used the Hot Elites. Most of my characters are still in whatever build they took when they hit 80, which for many of them was the best part of five years ago. I use Tempest for the overloads and Druid as a heal-based survival build but other than that I don't think I've even tested the rest, let alone learned how to use them. The last thing I need is another lot.

Two nights this week I logged in after work intending to carry on with the Griffon quest and instead ended up defending keeps in WvW for three hours. Then I logged out and went to bed.

It took 300+ people more than two years to come up with this stuff. I'm not saying I'll be done with it in a month or two; there's a wealth of long-term, background material in PoF that I'll be picking away at for years, just as I'm still picking away at Heart of Thorns and the base game.

What I am saying is that the amount of entertainment on offer is not ten times what I'm getting from EQ2, nor is it an order of magnitude better, or deeper, or wider.

Massively OP irritate the heck out of me with their coverage of Daybreak. It's relentlessly, grindingly, dismally negative. I dislike the editorial tone and attitude so much when they ride this particular hobbyhorse that I'm not even going to link to an example. Why encourage them?

Still, it doesn't do to be complacent. Feldon deciding to throw in the towel at EQ2Wire hasn't helped dispel the image of a floundering ship and the astonishing and inexorable rise of PUBG, damming what was presumably a major income stream at H1Z1 is a worrying factor.

As Wilhelm summarized, two and a half years after the sale of SOE's portfolio to unknown quantity Columbus Nova, we're really none the wiser about either the commercial viability of the MMOs or their stability in the medium-term. We don't even know the intended direction of travel.

Gossip persists that DBG is not a happy ship. Some known names have left, including a few of the biggest. Communication between the company and the players, while informative and ongoing, tends either to be formal and undemonstrative or inappropriately truculent.

And yet, for all that, as a very long-term player, fan and customer, I cannot remember the games themselves ever feeling better cared for. Looking specifically at EQ2, the DBG game I play the most these days, updates aren't just regular and reliable, they often weigh in at well in excess of anything that might have been expected.

Each holiday adds new content and Norrath has a lot of holidays. In Spring we got a major addition to the game with Familiars and Summer brought a whole season of Ethereals, something both valued and expected by the hardcore audience.

Familiars have, I think, been well received and the way Ethereals were handled this year seems to have avoided some of the problems of the past. The enormously rewarding, eight week Days of Summer quest has been almost universally praised, as has the decision to remove the time limit and keep it as permanent content.

As Autumn rolls in it brings with it the traditional pre-expansion warm-up. The ever-welcome Gear up, Level Up event is back and along with it the first of the quests that will introduce the theme of the expansion.

I ran through Strange Sensations with my Berserker earlier this week. It took me about ninety minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's very well-written, with characters that immediately feel convincing and a plot that intrigues. I particularly enjoyed the nuanced, metafictional philosophizing.

I love the writing in EQ2. Like GW2, the writers put words in my character's mouth but for once they're the kind of words I believe he would say. Some of the things that came out of my Druid's mouth as he worked through the plot of Path of Fire had me swearing at the screen in irritation. Not so in EQ2.

The Strange Sensations quest also follows what appears to be an enthusiastically embraced practice at Daybreak these days - user-friendliness. There's a lot of traveling involved but the dark elf wizard with whom you mainly deal opens a handy portal every time to send you just where you need to go. I really appreciated that, especially after the lengthy tours the panda had me running (which were, of course, entirely appropriate to, and indeed the essence of, that quest).

I was surprised just how delighted I was to find Lendinaria waiting for me in Skyshrine. Lendinaria is a dragon and I've met a lot of dragons over the years but she's one of my favorites. She's certainly one of the dragons I remember best. It did genuinely feel like unexpectedly running into an old friend.

When someone from my supposed past crops up in GW2's storyline I generally struggle to remember ever meeting them before. When I do remember them, as in the case of the execrable Ellen Kiel, I mostly wish I could let them take a really close look at the business end of a big stick.

Then there are the rewards. In GW2 you're lucky if you get a mini. Okay, let's be reasonable: in Path of Fire you almost always get a mini. Not one you're ever going to use, and because everyone gets one they trade for a few silver on the markets so there's not even much point selling it, but still, it's a mini. Plus a load of crafting mats, some armor you can salvage into more crafting mats, some skins you'll never wear and some bits and pieces that you don't really know what they're for.

In EQ2 you get stuff you want and stuff you need. Stuff with value. Days of Summer was like winning the lottery. Strange Sensations only gives you two items but they are excellent: three 25-day Research Time Reducers, always most welcome, and an Ascension Level boost from what I thought was the max level (10) to 11.

I confess I don't understand Ascension Classes. I have one levelled up to halfway through Level 4 so far and I have yet to use it. I have it pigeon-holed as End Game Stuff, nothing to do with me.

If you read the official EQ2 forums it seems Ascension is Pay to Win and everyone hates it but then if you read the official EQ2 forums everyone has been saying that about everything since about 2004. I'll learn about Ascension if and when I find I can't do stuff I want to do without it. So far, not happened.

It's October so everything's turning orange. According to EQ2Traders Norrath's Halloween Holiday, Nights of the Dead is back, with a ton of new items to craft or buy, new achievements, a new quest and a load of tweaks and improvements to the plethora of existing spooky stuff.

We don't have a release date yet but the expansion will most likely arrive in November. DBG pop one of these things out every year like clockwork. Some are better than others but they're all solid and entertaining.

I have a good feeling about this year's; the EQ2 team have really been on a roll these last few months and for all the relentless Eeyoring of the community I do sense a glimmer of grudging appreciation behind the scowls, here and there.

It may well be that Norrath's days are numbered. All the MMOs are aging. The prospects of attracting new players must be vanishingly small and hanging on to those who are left must get harder every year. Nothing lasts forever but in this case we don't have any certainty that Columbus Nova even wants it to last.

For all that, the games feel in great shape. For my money, EQ2's small team does every bit as well as GW2's large one. If the ship goes down it won't be for lack of expertise or effort from the crew.

I'm just going to enjoy what we have while we have it. And if Mrs Bhagpuss turns out to be done with GW2, I may well find I have a lot more time to spend in Norrath. There's so much more I want to do there, still. 
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