Top 5 Favorite Video Game Music Compositions, A BattleBards Inspiration

Show of hands, how many of you actually listen to the music in the games you play? Hmmm… wow, that’s more than I was expecting. If you’re not, though, you should really start as video game music is already it’s own artform with known and highly sought after composers like Jeremy Soule, main composer of the Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars series. No longer are we in the age of simple MIDI compositions, but full orchestrations take center stage. This is a good thing. A very good thing.

There is even a new podcast, recently started, called Battle Bards that showcases the music of our favorite MMOs in a roundtable discussion. The podcast is hosted by the quartet of Steph from MMO Gamer Chick, Syl from MMO Gypsy, Dodge from A Casual Stroll to Mordor, and Justin from Massively and Bio Break (and since I’m link-dropping, Tesh from TishToshTesh did the artwork).  I listened to the pilot episode, and it is fantastic and I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re a music aficionado like myself.

So, in honor of the Battle Bards newly minted podcast, here are my top five favorite video game musical compositions of all time. In order of simply how awesome they are.

#5 – Guild Wars – Lakeside County – Jeremy Soule

When I first started playing Guild Wars, it was as a quick break from the game I (and everyone and their mother) was addicted to, World of Warcraft. Because of my addiction, I never gave Guild Wars a fair shake and have always been disappointed that I never really played through the storyline. From what I can see of Guild Wars 2, the story from Guild Wars 1 seems superior, so it’s even more of a shame. Anyway, after the introduction and the stroll into town, the first zone you visit is Lakeside County in Ascalon. I could listen to this music over and over again, and frequently did. The beauty of the landscape, the autumn foilage slowly falling off the trees, the picturesque sky and valleys, and then this hauntingly beautiful flowing melody that didn’t quite fill you with hope of a new adventure, but set the tone of “everything is not what it seems”. Perfect foreshadowing for the trials to come.

#4 – Lord of the Rings Online – Shire Hills 03844 – Chance Thomas(?)

When I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy back in 7th grade, it was my first real foray into medieval-style fantasy fiction and the writings of JRR Tolkien was one of the best places to start. The culture presented of the Hobbits was instantly likable as one of curiosity and adventure. Whether that adventure was a full fellowship or just an adventure down the river to visit a neighbor, Hobbits, to me, always represented movement, motion, and progress. Even shoes held them back, they were always on the move. Why do you think they needed so many meals? For being such small creatures, their metabolism was through the roof and adventure was the way to burn off all those calories. They were the beginning of something much larger than themselves (as everything was much larger than they were), and this song with its upbeat guitars, light drum, and clapping gives the feeling of that forward movement. The song revolves around a single theme, but is intertwined periodically with other melodic phrases and joined by many other lines, like all the different sights to see and friends to meet while traveling down the road.

#3 – Skyrim – Main Theme – Jeremy Soule

I won’t lie. I played the EFF out of Skyrim. I didn’t stop playing because I grew tired of the game, I stopped playing because at level 65 I RAN OUT OF STUFF TO DO! I had completed every faction’s quests, the main storyline was done, and aside from grinding every skill up to 100 I was already maxed out in my favorites. Some guard would want to tell me about an old injury or something, but really there was nothing left to do. However, the theme song makes it sound like there’s always something to do. It’s got that grand, majestic feel with the chanting and horns that makes you feel like shouting from the tops of the mountains.

It starts out like a thunderstorm, bass drums and chants, and then slowly gathers steam until you’re in the thick of it. The horns pick up the main theme, and then take it over. The vocals pick up like thrums of lightning, then crescendo like gathering bursts of wind. A slight break, with a falsetto line leads into a joining of the chorus with the horns into the heart of the piece. After a couple more crescendos, the song lightens and ends on a clear and crisp note just like the storm having finally passed. With Skyrim being a land of harsh climate, both politically and physically, creating the music around a coming storm just ties it all together nicely.

#2 – Ultima IX – Stones – David “Iolo” Watson

I know I’ve been posting a lot about Ultima lately, but what can I say, it’s a big part of my own gaming history. And if there’s one song that would represent that history, it’s Stones. Encountered in the game sometimes at random, it was always a song that made me stop in my tracks. Say what you will about Ultima IX (and it’s all justified), but this is hands down my favorite version of Stones yet. Starting with that slow lute and then being picked up by the flute, it presents a haunting melody that feels very melancholy. And then, suddenly, there’s a burst of hope. The song lightens and the skies part. However, just as quick as they part, the melancholy comes back in the final strains of the piece.  It’s like saying “yes, there are times when you will be down but remember there is always a ray of hope to lift your spirits”. Even if, in the end, you’re still sad, that ray of hope has a way of melting it away if only for a small time.

#1 – Civilization IV – Baba Yetu – Christopher Tin

Trivia Time! What was the first piece of music made for a video game to ever be nominated for and win a Grammy? You’re looking at it. I can’t say enough good things about Baba Yetu that I’m not even sure where to start. The Civilization series of games is all about building an empire to stand the test of time from humble beginnings and this song shows that by just not letting up on the hope and majesty, constantly building on itself over and over again until your goosebumps find goosebumps of their own. And just when you think it can’t build any more, it smooths out and ends on the main theme that puts that extra faith in humanity’s future. Plus, the fact that the song is the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili just adds that extra spark of faith that wraps the entire thing together into just an amazing piece. Christopher Tin ended up winning a Grammy for this song, and although I don’t agree with those that pick the winners of the Grammys usually, I couldn’t help but applaud their choice here. Simply amazing.

And now, thanks to making this list, I’ll now have these songs stuck in my head for the rest of the week.

// Ocho

PS – There could be a lot worse songs to have stuck there…

PPS – Think I missed any, please post them in the comments!


Rock Out – Favorite Game Music and Music to Rock Out To

Do you know of Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin? If you don’t, stop reading and go and listen to it now. That, my friend, is the first piece of music specifically made for a video game to ever win a Grammy, and although I don’t agree with the Grammy committee on some of their decisions, that is easily one of the most inspiring pieces of music out there. Well done, Grammy people.

As I’m sure Syp would agree with me, a good musical score is one of the big reasons you keep coming back to a particular game. Stones, a simple song from the Ultima series, for example, I find myself whistling from time to time. It’s stuck with me after all this time even though I haven’t played an Ultima game for years. Still, I want to periodically head back, possibly just to hear it again. It holds such emotion and such feeling, I can’t help but remember it fondly. Or even the music of The Shire in Lord of the Rings Online conveys a peace and serenity that’s perfectly matched to the zone, making it, in my opinion, one of the greatest zones in any game out there. It’s no coincidence that the background music plays a big part in that. And who could forget the strains when you first exit Ascalon City into Lakeside County in Guild Wars? It holds a sweet and yet somber fall melody, as if to gently foreshadow coming events. Awesome and amazing, all of them, I highly suggest a listen or two or ten.

… Then there’s the other side of the spectrum.

Some people don’t want and/or even like game soundtracks. They find them a waste of time, and the repetition bothers them to no end. I feel you there, too. Not all game soundtracks are winners. The music from the Barrens zone in vanilla World of Warcraft was terrible. Why did they have to include grunts when the music started? It was just an audio cue that reminded you “Oh yeah, you’ve been here long enough, it’s starting over again.” And with the size of the Barrens… you ended up hearing it a LOT.

That’s when you bring in your own music to play. Getting into PvP, for example, is always made a little more exciting when you blast some hard rock to go along with it.

To that end, I wanted to let all of you music lovers out there know of an event a good friend of mine is doing soon: This Thursday, September 13th from 7 to 10 pm, my good buddy Jersey Jim is hosting an online radio show  “Jersey Jim Makes a Scene”. Sticking with mostly the harder stuff, in his own words, you’ll find “Lots of good music and good times to come.” Great music to game to, definitely. Something to get the blood pumping. Here’s a link to his FB page, detailing the event, and here’s the site,, he’ll be broadcasting live from.

Seriously, do me a solid. Give him a listen and Like his page. If you like what you hear, let him know!

So which do you prefer? Your own or the games soundtrack? Got any of your own favorites? Let me know down in the comments!

For those about to rock, I /salute you.

\\ Ocho

P.S. – I also saw recently it was detailed where you can alter the music in Guild Wars 2 to your own playlists. Awesome, but why one would want to change the fantastic score for GW2 is beyond me.

P.P.S. – I also just discovered Gangham Style. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner?!! Too much. I’m dying over here…

Ready or Not, Guild Wars 2 is Fast Approaching

In a little under 3 weeks, on Tuesday August 28th, the moment many many gamers have been waiting for, Guild Wars 2 will open to the world. I am excited as hell. To me, having Guild Wars 2‘s servers open and stay open is the most exciting MMO launch since…. since… World of Warcraft? No, I believe it even trumps WoW.

No pun intended, but… Wow!

For all the MMO’s that have opened since World of Warcraft, including such gems as Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Star Trek Online, and others, I think the excitement for the launch of Guild Wars 2 surpasses them all.

Now, some could say this excitement is completely fabricated and that it’s been way over-hyped. I see where these complaints are coming from, but I don’t agree. Guild Wars 2 has a record breaking amount of hype attached to it, but it feels pure and my own personal history with the title should hopefully explain why.

I found Guild Wars when I was browsing a newly opened Gamestop on my lunch break. The Gamestop was brand-spanking new, such that you could still smell the paint and drywall. It smelled clean and fresh, as good construction does. At the time I picked it up, I was still a thrall of World of Warcraft, but I had become a little bored with it, and the thought of an MMO with no sub fee intrigued me. What could be the harm? I’d still play WoW as I was paying and didn’t want to waste the sub, but this game would also give me the online fix, but not cost me anything extra. So, I could essentially play two MMOs at the same time!

I didn’t get far in the first couple times. Being a secondary game, I simply did not give the game the time it deserved, and looking back… I regret it. The game’s high focus on story, on skills rather than loot, and hired henchmen to make up for holes in groups made it far from being just another clone. After stopping WoW and subbing to Lord of the Rings Online, I still kept Guild Wars as my secondary backup game.

Only recently, however, did I finally get my first character to Level 20 and started to make some progress. Sadly, I stopped that progress because… well… Why can’t a Paragon just wear some pants?! As powerful as I was becoming, the virtual breeze I kept feeling was slowly getting to me. I once again stopped, but not for lack of love of the game, just the thought of starting over with another character wasn’t something I wanted to jump back into. I’m not the biggest fan of repeating content, especially content I JUST completed.

But with the opening of Guild Wars 2 comes, in my mind, a chance to make up for my past regrets. A new Guild Wars, and being there in the opening month, where I know the game will hold my attention. Now being released in a mostly Free-To-Play atmosphere, the Guild Wars franchise isn’t playing second fiddle anymore. It’s primed to take the main stage.

Every little bit of nugget that ArenaNet released was solid. They weren’t just throwing out “Eh, maybe we’ll include this” type stuff. If they said it, it was already going to be included in-game. Then, they started making Guild Wars easier to play, they increased the number of heroes, they added the ability to let your other characters join you in your fights. Essentially, ArenaNet was saying: Get ready.

Adding completion perks from Guild Wars is just a stroke of genius. As the sale of Gamecube games increased after the Wii came out, I believe there will be a surge of Guild Wars players post-GW2 release. Players who find that they love Guild Wars 2 will pick up Guild Wars just to get all the perks!

I know I won’t play Guild Wars 2 forever, as that’s just not how I roll, but by turning GW essentially into a fully soloable game, I see no reason to stop playing the original either. The draw of GW2 incentives will still be very strong, and aren’t disappearing anytime soon. My primary game will be from ArenaNet, and until I fill up that Hall of Monuments in the future, an ArenaNet game will be a backup, too.

ArenaNet seems to know the market and how players think better than most companies out there, and that shows in their products.

Now, ArenaNet, stop teasing us with these stress test samplers! We don’t want 6 hours! We want the main course.

Bring it on!

\\ Ocho

P.S. – Looking for some good reading on Guild Wars 2? Here are a few posts from other’s around the gaming scene that are well worth taking a look at:

Quadzi over at Warrior Needs Time Badly, pontificating on the calm before the storm that is Guild Wars.

Ravious over at Kill Ten Rats looking back on the past 5 years of GW2 development and how it’s more than just a game.

Syp over at Bio Break gives us a list of his top must-play race and class combinations.

Elisabeth over at Massively gives us a history lesson on the history of Tyria. There will be a test later. 

Entombed at Divinity’s Reach gives a personal recount of the last 5 years and the building anticipation.

And finally, the geek icon herself, Felicia Day, opens up a Guild Wars 2 Collector’s Edition box for the world to see.

Free-To-Play: A Game of Numbers

Today has got me thinking.

With the news that Star Wars: The Old Republic is going free to play, it made me think about games and gaming value. Are the games we’re playing really worth the money we’re spending on them? Why does it matter the world to one person that a MMO has a subscription cost, but to someone else that same cost is utterly inconsequential? Multiple factors abound in this discussion, which is why it’s turned into such a polarizing topic. However, some numbers may help to explain it, at least from this gamer’s perspective.

Single Player Games

The single player genre is large and still in charge. Comparable to a summer blockbuster movie, it’s a big budget, years in the making game that starts out with a high pricetag. Generally $60. You’re $60 gets you admission to a fantastic story, awesome gameplay, and unrivaled graphics. Gametime will generally take about two weeks to a month to complete. Most gamers are left satisfied, and so these games take a long time to come down in price. I just purchased Skyrim during Steam’s Summer Sale for 50% off, a good 9 months after release. DLC now always comes later, but it’s 100% optional.

AAA MMO with Box Fee, Monthly Subscription, and Extra Cash Shop

Here is the standard we find with released MMOs today. If we say the initial box will cost about $60, then with a $15 subscription every month after, with a $30 expansion released after a year, you’re looking at figures like this: 1 month: $60, 3 months: $90, 6 months: $135, 9 months: $180, 12 months (with new expansion): $255. Throw an extra $25 for a sparkle pony from the cash shop, and you’re looking at a year’s total of $280.

When stretched out over the course of a year, it is a lot more palatable. I’m not one to be stingy. I am on a budget, and I do spend the money when I feel it’s worth it. Heck, that $15 monthly subscription fee is earned before I even fully wake up on the first workday of the month. But looking at the overall picture, $280 for a single game is a LOT to spend. As a comparison, right now on Amazon is a Playstation 3 for $250.

Free to Play MMO with a Strict Cash Shop 

Here is the next standard we find in gaming today, the Free to Play MMO. Under a F2P MMO, the developers of the game are set to task. They can’t just wing out some content every year or so and think that’s it. No, they are held accountable for every item in that store. Content, potions, storage, cosmetic items, ships, weapons, it’s all in there, and it’s scrutinized heavily. Not only is it scrutinized, but it’s pushed like a bookstore’s endcap with the latest best sellers. Annoying at times but here are my personal numbers: If I’ve invested a lot of time into a game, you’ll most likely see me spend about $20 or so every 2 or 3 months. This comes out to about $100/year.

With sales, and for people that must have everything in the game with multiple alts, this can vary wildly from player to player. Nobody is the same. A great majority buy nothing, and a minority buy everything. As we are being proved time and time again, though, this is a business model that works, and is why we’re seeing Star Wars: The Old Republic turning to head down this path.

MMO with a Box Fee and a Not-So-Strict Cash Shop 

My personal favorite. Also known as the Guild Wars model. You pay a large box price, about $60, and then there is a shop with fluff items. Costumes, extra storage panes, skills you can find in-game, etc. Now, I’m not commenting on Guild Wars 2 as it’s cash shop still has yet to be truly revealed. However, if it’s anything like the first Guild Wars, there is nothing to worry about, as it’s all cosmetic and fluff items. Nothing game-killing. Then, about every year, a paid expansion will come along, in the $30 range. So, in the course of a year, paying about $100 seems right.

This is very similar to my F2P spending, but the feeling is entirely different. That $100 is only for the first year, too. Every year after, it’s only the costs of expansions and cash shop fluff.


If every game went with the Box + Cash Shop model, I would be a lot happier. The box fee adds that gate that subscription MMO players crave so much to keep out the “riff-raff”, and the cash shop is there but far from being intrusive. The population is large enough to keep a stable community, and the best part: you can take a break from the game and come back later with no negative consequences.

So why did Star Wars: The Old Republic go Free To Play? Well, my guess is that they brought out the game, with a similar-feeling combat system to essentially be the next in line of the Knights of the Old Republic franchise, which is great, but players and Bioware seemed to treat it similar to a single-player game. Once one time through the story was accomplished or a month or two had passed, why keep it up? PvP? Raids? Only a small percentage of MMO players partake in them to begin with. Its nice to see them included, but it’s largely ignored. If SWtOR had the Guild Wars pricing model, it would’ve rocked the gaming world to it’s foundations. Now, though, after rounds of layoffs, Bioware and SWtOR will join the ranks of the already saturated Free To Play market.

Someday I may even play it, but most likely not.

\\ Ocho

P.S. – I’m sure you’ve noticed my lack of pictures this time around, I’ve decided to change my format to be a little more relaxed. The large pictures and huge articles was too much for me to keep up with. I found I stopped gaming, and thats the whole point! I was writing, but found little time to play. If I change to shorter (this one, actually, is not included in the shorter category) and less flashy articles, the pressure will come off and I’ll hopefully post more often. Casual Aggro, to me, is still in an experimental phase. Finding where I fit and where this fits in my time is proving to be a little tricky.

But overall, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for reading. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I truly enjoy writing it. 🙂

So Many Events, So Little Time

Actually, I believe they were playing Sting...One of the best things I love about MMOs are the in-game festivals. They, more than any other aspect of the game, say ‘Hey! THIS is what makes MMOs fun’. Sure, you have raiding, guilds, and chat, which you can’t find in single player games, but everything else in MMOs can generally be found elsewhere. Quests, yup. Bosses, yup. Lore filled worlds, yup. But its the in-game events that really stand out. You won’t find a Winter Festival in Mass Effect 3, or an Anniversary Celebration in Skyrim, or a Fruit Harvest Bonanza in Pacman, but you WILL find them in MMOs. And I can’t seem to keep up with a single one of them…

Guild Wars just celebrated another huge anniversary festival, the last one before Guild Wars 2 releases. I wasn’t able to get in game for even a small amount of time. Really, I have nobody to blame but myself on this one. I love Guild Wars, but I can’t stand my Paragon. Love the long range damage dealing and crowd control… but Pants! Pants! The class needs Pants! I couldn’t stand, after a while, the fact that I was essentially slaughtering enemies, bristling with spears, while wearing a mini-skirt! Freedom of movement, long distance running, I get it. But still… no matter how epic they make them look, I still feel a virtual breeze where there shouldn’t be one.

A bit chilly today, huh?

Lord of the Rings Online is wrapping up the celebration of it’s 5th year being open, and I was only able to make it in for one night… the last one. I still did a lot, collecting envelopes, setting off fireworks, riding my new Azure steed colored in silver and navy, picking up a map or two, but I certainly wasn’t able to take full advantage of the celebration. Even though they extended it! Ah well. Next time, LotRO, next time.

Dungeons and Dragons online also had a pirate-esque festival, where you explore an island and trounce the scurvy inhabitants to steal their hard earned treasures (wait… who is the real pirate here?). I got in for a night to try this out with my standing Tuesday night DDO group, and it was a lot of fun! As a recurring event, it will most likely be back again.

Finally, Star Trek Online, though not an anniversary like Guild Wars and LotRO, was having an event I’m the most disappointed on missing out on: The Second Foundry Challenge. Star Trek Online’s Foundry is an awesome tool that lets the players generate their own stories. Some are great, some are lame, some are downright exploits, but if you have the entire universe as your playground, having player made missions is a no-brainer. In an infinite universe, there are infinite stories. So how many of the entries was I able to play? One. Just one. It was pretty good, but again, I blame myself. My gaming ADD sometimes knows no bounds. However, a new Third Foundry Challenge is starting!! If you’ve ever wanted to tell a tale based in the Star Trek universe, the game is Free to Play, and you won’t find a better opportunity.

Hopefully, I’ll get around to actually playing it this time.

\\ Ocho

P.S – Also, Star Trek Online is currently having reruns of it’s Featured Episode series that will be going on until the end of the month, and I highly suggest you give them a try. Easily the best content I’ve played in an MMO to date.

The Leveling Paradox

I was talking with a friend of mine about leveling in Guild Wars 2 and his thoughts were about how markedly different it is than Guild Wars 1. The more I thought about it, the more I think the leveling systems are relatively similar.

First off, the starting max level for characters in Guild Wars 2 will be level 80. Being so high, the first thought that comes to mind is the style used in most current MMO’s, which is a system where each level takes more and more effort to gain, and the amount of time it takes to get from level 79 to 80 is ridiculous compared to the time between level 10 and 11, for example. The Guild Wars 2 developers have already said that this will NOT be the case. The amount of time it takes to get from level 2 to 3 is the

same amount of time it takes to get from 79 to 80. So, then, why 80? After playing in the first beta weekend, the level has been put at 80 simply to throw a gate to the different areas. In my opinion, that’s it. If it took me, one of the slowest levelers ever, to go from level 1 to 8 in just a couple of hours, then theoretically I would reach max level in about 20 hours! That’s nothing! Gamers will reach that overnight the day it releases. Any pre-purchase head start will easily see max level characters before official release.

This is exactly like the system in Guild Wars 1. The max level in Guild Wars is 20, and is amazingly easy to reach, hitting max level WAY before you get that far into the main storyline. So, essentially ArenaNet made the leveling in Guild Wars an extension of the tutorial, and Guild Wars 2 will play the same way. If level 80 takes only 20 hours to achieve, leveling will have the same feel. Progression, then, will come from the same source that Guild Wars uses, and that’s elite skills, loot that meshes with playstyle, and player skill. Guild Wars 2 will seperate those who can play, and those who can’t. A themepark that will refuse to hold your hand. Finally.

The leveling and questless mechanic of Guild Wars 2 also brings about something that was unexpected but completely welcome, the removal of “gray” questing! I might finally level at a decent pace! Now, I care about story in my games. The individual small stories create the overall large story that builds the game world. So, I always feel like
I’m missing something when I find my quest log filled with “gray” or “green” quests that I’ve completely outleveled. The only reason to do them is for the story, and when the rewards that go along with it end up being vendor trash, the want to drop them is strong. So, thats where I usually hit my wall in most games, getting stuck in the quagmire of quests 10 levels below mine with the completionist in me yelling that I must finish them anyway. However, in Guild Wars 2 this isn’t a problem. Every event and quest you do, unless you head to areas much higher than your level, will be performed on or slightly above your level!

There was one time, in the beta chat, where a player was complaining that he “outleveled” the area and came back to beat a bad guy he couldn’t beat before, and still was beat down. The general response: “Well, find others or simply become a better player”. Just like in Guild Wars 1, your level doesn’t hold much power. The power lies in your skill.

\\ Ocho

Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions

This past weekend I was lucky enough (read: pre-purchased) to be a part of the Guild Wars 2 Beta. Guild Wars 2, if you do not know, is one of the most highly anticipated upcoming games in the MMO genre. So how is it? Not bad at all.

After a long and exhausting weekend (still have the sunburn to prove it), I was able to log in and play for a few hours this past Sunday. I started out by rolling something I probably would never really play just because I knew the characters are going to be wiped and I wouldn’t feel like I lost much progress. I created a Norn Mesmer, a master of psychic manipulation and mental dominance, and a REALLY big guy, too.

The first thing I did once I got in game? Crank the settings WAY down to their bare minimum. Now, I don’t have the biggest and best machine. In fact, it’s probably getting time to replace a part or two, especially the 8 year old processor, and this game is a big indicator of how soon I should do it. Most other MMOs I have no problems with… LotRO and STO, for example, I can play on almost full settings. This? Yeah, not so much. However, if this is what it looks like on the lowest end, I’m really impressed. On high end machines, this game is going to be gorgeous.

So how is the gameplay? I’m going to try to avoid things that normally happen during betas. For instance, they don’t normally turn all their servers on and run them at full speed. Afterall, this was not a stress test. However that simply can’t be done. The lag was the biggest issue, and whether the lag was server side or client side, I really couldn’t tell. Get in a group of more than five other players and the number of frames per second bottomed out. So how many big events have only 5 players? None. They all have around 50 players all at once. I ended up having to find a decent range weapon just to be able to participate in larger battles (which for a Mesmer ended up being a two handed sword. Interesting choice, but there ya’ go).

When I was able to solo a bit or land in small groups gameplay was terrific. The game flowed very smoothly, from one area to the next. I would approach a “heart” and start completing tasks nearby to fill it up, once full a reward of experience and favor is received, which can then be traded for upgrades and other items. Filling up these hearts, which are pretty much everywhere, is a fun endeavor but its roots are still firmly felt in the quest hubs of other MMOs. Instead of picking up a quest to collect 10 snozzberries, instead you just start collecting them and then dump them off at an NPC. Instead of getting a quest to kill 12 mushbuggers, you just start killing and the heart starts filling up automatically. So, I wouldn’t say the “quest” is dead in Guild Wars 2, but I would say its a new approach to it.

Periodically you’d also get a notice that a new event is happening nearby. Awesome! Now, I haven’t played Warhammer so I can’t tell you how it’s similar/different there, but I have played Rift and can give a decent comparison to it’s public rifts. In Rift, it always felt like the rifts were getting in the way. You’d head to a quest hub, pick up a few quests, complete them, start heading back, and a rift has taken up residence right on top of the quest hub. Rats. Ah well, you have to clear out the rift to turn the quests in. Or you’d be travelling down the road, and a group escaping from a rift crosses your path, stomps all over you, and keeps on running to whatever destination they’re heading for. In other words, in Rift the rifts just got in the way. I couldn’t keep playing as I found myself time and again becoming frustrated with the things that were the star-title of the MMO! In Guild Wars 2, however, there are no static quests per se. There is an overall storyline, but there is no quest to really get in the way of. So when a public event is going on, theres nothing against just dropping everything that you’re doing and heading on over. Those hearts can be filled later, and are purely optional to proceed in the first place.

However, heading over isn’t necessarily the best option. Some public events reach quickly a sort of ‘critical mass’. Any more than 5 or 10 players, and not only does lag then become and issue, but the amount of fighting you’re actually doing becomes chaotic and frenzied. One of the true highlights I encountered during my play session was in a small out of the way part of the Norn starting area. I came across a Norn bragging about how he could have the inhabitants of a cave worship him, then asked you to escort him as he went ahead and did it. First, you clear out the cave a bit, then once that part of the chain was done, you had to find enough ice for the Norn to use to carve a huge statue of himself, and finally once that part of the chain was complete you had to watch his back while he carved it. Once done, the statue did as he predicted and amazed the cave inhabitants, turning them all peaceful. I’m sure after a period of time, the statue of ice melts, the creatures become hostile once more, and the cycle starts over. THIS is the beauty of Guild Wars 2. If I hadn’t been in that place at the right time, I would never have seen the event. It was all done in passing, and since I had no pressing “quests”, felt no qualms about joining in.

Something I noticed that drew a lot of attention from players was the leveling down mechanic. If you leveled to say, level 8, which wasn’t a hard thing to do with enough events around and you stayed in the Norn starting area then the highest effective level you could be was level 4. You stayed level 8, but were effectively leveled down to the content. A lot of players complained about this as they were hoping to be stronger, come back, and face-roll the early content. I can see that… have it make the early stuff much easier to accomplish with a stronger character. These people must not have played Guild Wars before. Guild Wars is one of the most difficult MMOs I have ever played. Their Halloween event I found to be the most difficult and challenging set of quests I’ve ever experienced. So why should ArenaNet turn around and trivialize some of their content? Right from the beginning, all content becomes a challenge to be overcome. If you’re at max level and come back to the starting area, you might still find it a challenge. Personally, I LOVE this feature. It basically says ‘Hey, we’re not going to let some higher level just walk around and trivialize your battles and we’re not going to necessarily make it easy for you, too. If you want the reward, you have to earn it.’ Yes! Finally! A game that has the stones to Not reward childish behavior, that makes All content a challenge. If you want to be successful at Guild Wars 2, then you better learn how to play it and play it well.

Overall, I can’t wait for the next beta event. Though the game is not perfect, it IS still just in beta and a lot of tech problems most likely will be solved by the time the game releases. The gameplay fits right into my style… solo if you want, but grouping is easy as cake. No pressure to join up if you don’t want to. Just play. Will the game be a hit? Most definitely. Will it be able to topple the biggest MMOs out there? Thats still on the fence. It’ll take a chunk out of their playerbases, but people really enjoy paying a subscription. I think ArenaNet, though, doesn’t realize how big of a hit it has on its hands and better start priming the servers for more and more people.

This game is going to be huge.

\\ Ocho