MMOnday: Heart of Thorns Impressions

gw2-hot-logoOne of the most anticipated releases in the MMORPG world this year has been Guild Wars 2‘s first expansion Heart of Thorns. It came two years after the game’s initial launch and boasted the  first raid, new class specializations and even a completely new class (in addition to plenty more). Last week players flooded into the new region to face the game’s recently awakened elder dragon Mordremoth and his hordes of minions.

So how is it? As someone who’s been playing for the last two years, the expansion feels very enjoyable so far. The class specializations take awhile to unlock (too long, according some of the most vocal critics of the new system), but the Hero Points needed offer a nice alternative to simply grinding enemies to gain experience for a new level as many MMOs opt for. Another new mechanic is gliding which feels smooth and offers a great way to traverse the new areas. Very reminiscent to Aion, another NCsoft-published MMORPG released in 2008.

Music and art direction are also strong. The background music is quite enjoyable and gamers may find themselves turning up their volume a bit to enjoy it. Plenty of new enemies have also been added and many feel unique and foreign. One of my favorite additions are the bipedal mushrooms which are happy to dive at players as they cross the jungle. Looking forward to discovering more as I venture further.

I can’t comment too much on the story, but playing the introductory sequence that brings you into the new region felt exciting and also set the tone for the story.

One special note I have to make is about the expansion’s launch: there was no downtime, no queues and little lag. Online games seem rarely prepared for hordes of players at launches or expansions, but ArenaNet did a great job of keeping the experience smooth and pain-free. I remember the launch of Warlords of Draenor and what a nightmare that was, so it was extremely refreshing to be able to play as usual even with such a surge of people.

Have you played yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Prophecy fulfilled: Major trans character not good enough for Polygon writer

Almost exactly one month ago I wrote an article asking, “Is there a way to bring trans characters into gaming without offending anyone? ” My hypothesis was a firm “no” and not because I thought a Kim Davis-type conservative would be opposed to a transgender video game character. Quite the opposite; I believed that no character could ever be good enough for the ‘Progressive Left’ and any included would inevitably fall short of their expectations. Polygon has now provided ample support that even if a character, a titular character, may be transgender, or something alien-equivalent, there is still ample room to shit upon the game for not properly handling the issue.

This all stems from Bungie’s latest expansion to Destiny called The Taken King. Lore from out-of-game sources reveal that the King, Oryx, was born a female and during a power-infusing ritual he transitioned to male. I have read various theories about whether this alien species can really be considered transgender or if it is their biology, but for the purpose of this discussion it does not particularly matter, because, as Polygon writer Laura Dale put it, “For now, even if it’s subtle, we can claim Oryx [as trans].”

Although Dale is quick to claim him, she’s also very ready to take issue with him.  The last half of her article is under the, “WE CAN’T PRAISE THIS AS A VICTORY FOR TRANSGENDER REPRESENTATION” header. Wait, what? One of the most important characters of a blockbuster game changes genders and you “claim” him for your cause, but this is not bringing the trans rights movement forward? It isn’t a success for sexual minorities and gender representation?

You can read Dale’s criticism below, pulled from her Polygon article:

It’s tragic that nobody knows Oryx is transgender. I hate that the first example of a transgender character in a titular role is hidden away so much that very few hardcore Destiny players know about it. It’s diversity relegated to the depths of a convoluted and complex set of out of game data logs. 

Author's image
Laura Dale

If we lived in a world without the Internet tools we enjoy today, maybe I would accept this as a valid criticism since information would be harder to disperse. As I already said myself last month, “depicting a transgender character presents a challenge. In such a visual medium gender identity cannot be explained so easily. In fact, just as in real life, you may not know someone identifies as a gender that differs from their biological or birth sex.” Bungie has not provided much in-game lore, which many fans have been disappointed with, but has actually provided resources for those who care. If anything, Oryx’s gender identity could be more of an easter egg.

destiny-oryxAnd where does the gaming press’s responsibility fall into this? Dale found out about the Taken King’s backstory and has a huge platform on which to share it: Polygon (or Destructoid). Gaming sites aren’t just for printing press releases breathlessly sent out by PR firms to sell games. They’re for exactly these sort of situations. To inform video game fans about information they may not know. A whole different narrative approach could have been taken with this article, one of discovery and appreciation. Instead there’s a bit of the latter mixed in with a surprising bitterness. A heaviness pervades the article, just because a character was not portrayed in a way which the author wanted.

Furthermore, would it not be awkward to have Oryx clearly stated as transgender (again, this may not be the best term to describe the situation, but we’re going with it) and then ask players to kill him?! Which is really more offensive? I think Bungie took the better route of relegating lore to its separate app, as it does with most of Destiny, instead of potentially causing a firestorm of outrage among these same writers who are complaining the villain’s gender identity is not given exposure in-game before you take up arms against him.

I just don’t see “Progressives” understanding how progress actually works. Life is a series of small victories and if you’re not willing to acknowledge any but the biggest of them, you may find that there aren’t too many victories to celebrate. So too in video game diversity.

As always I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts and comments about this issue.

MMOnday: What are your MMO pet peeves?

Many game genres have certain tropes or reoccurring mechanics which can cause frustration among the playerbase. MMO’s are no different, so today I’d like to ask, “What pisses you off in massively-multiplayer online games?

FFXIV-quarrymillSpeaking for myself, I find complicated maps and backtracking to be one of the most awful elements I consistently see and which irk me to no end. The original release of Final Fantasy XIV was perhaps one of the most frustrating examples I can pull from recent memory. The map to the right, pulled from Aleczan’s site, shows exactly how convoluted and annoying they were to navigate. Luckily this was fixed in the massive A Realm Reborn update.

Another pet peeve of mine is poor auction house or trading interfaces. World of Warcraft doesn’t have the most amazing one, but it’s an example of a game that can be expanded upon by players themselves through addons. Other titles which I enjoy playing, such as Aion, don’t allow such customization and thus deliver subpar experiences.

Enough about my opinions though, what do you hate to see? How about killing 10 rats? Or a very limited set of skills for players to use at a given moment, such as in the Guild Wars series?

MMOnday: How do you MMO on the go?

As smartphones and tablets have improved, in terms of both processing and graphical power, so too has mobile gaming. Gameloft has recently released a sequel to their game Order & Chaos, which was largely seen as a clone of World of Warcraft, except for your pocket devices. Clones don’t usually look so impressive, but back in 2011 it was no minor feat to a huge 3D world at your fingertips without ever having to boot up a computer. At launch it did sport a WiFi requirement, as well as a small monthly subscription, but it was nonetheless a remarkable technical achievement.

Nowadays we take such games for granted and there are plenty of MMO titles on iOS and Android to choose from. Not all feature 3D characters or vast worlds, but many have addictive gameplay that is suitable for short instances such as commuting to work or school, taking a lunch break or even distracting yourself in the restroom.

Do you prefer 3D MMORPGs such as Order & Chaos? 2D sidescrollers like MapleStory? Or even strategy titles? What are you playing while away from your favorite PC games?

MMOnday: What’s your favorite in-game holiday event?

MMOs have a long history of incorporating real holidays into game worlds in many creative ways. Next month we’ll see many titles roll out Halloween-themed events, undoubtedly sporting spooky aesthetics and ghoulish rewards. This year will be the first time gamers get to see WildStar’s Shade’s Eve event which was unavailable last year when the game was first launched. Now that it’s free-to-pay there’s no excuse not to check out the festivities!

Of course, Halloween is only one of the many special days that make it into these games. You may prefer Christmas or winter-themed events, such as Wintersday in Guild Wars 2, or even the eggs-cellent Easter events like Noblegarden in World of Warcraft.

Some might contend that games which incorporate real holidays into the lore are really stretching the immersion factor of the universe though and would prefer to have unique events based on entirely new holidays. What do you think?