Flameseeker Chronicles: Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Guild Wars - the Pale Sapling
Remember when the Pale Tree was just an odd little sapling? When "Kodan" was just the Dwarven Recruitment Officer in Gunnar's Hold?

The original Guild Wars is riddled with memories for me. I may have spent only a paltry 2,500 hours in-game, but they've been superbly full hours. I had two big surges of nostalgia this past week: once when I was hip-deep in the Fissure of Woe and remembered how utterly awesome I'd felt the first time I got a Chaos Axe drop, and again as I ran through the hall of burning trees in the third level of the Cathedral of Flames and thought about the countless times I'd run through there on my Smite or 600 monk, buddied up with my best friend and dropping the Enchanted Weapons like flies.

I can't wait to have that kind of nostalgia in Guild Wars 2.

Some things resonate differently with different people. For example, slaughtering Ascalonian Ghosts by the score and wading up to my elbows in the ectoplasm of former friends and teachers doesn't even start to reach me. The Ascalonian Catecombs dungeon, as a result, gave my nostalgia senses a little bit of a twinge but wasn't a sad experience as it apparently was for Rubi. For one thing, I've always been something of a Charr sympathizer, especially after meeting Pyre Fierceshot and his warband. For another, I make it a point of personal distinction not to get attached to the undead, especially when their little nega-minds have been warped by sorcerous hatred. Yes, I have fond memories of gabbing about how cute the Melandru's Stalkers were with Master Ranger Nente, but all bets were off after he allowed his soul to be domineered and twisted by his mad king.

Nostalgia in Guild Wars 2, at this point, seems to mostly come from reminders that we're in the same world. It's like the sunken Temple of Ages and Lion's Arch in Guild Wars 2 are the shadows on the wall, and those places in their full glory in Guild Wars are the objects casting the shadows, if you'll permit the extreme dilution of Plato's cave allegory. It's an admittedly weak allegory because in this case the shadows are pretty awesome in their own right, like the Pre-Searing score that's been woven into ambient music for places in Guild Wars 2. Project Tyria is doing an excellent job of chronicling the before and after shots of landmarks we've all come to know and love. (As a side note, the blogrolls on Project Tyria and related sites are staggering. This community is awesome.) That sort of nostalgia is still pretty cool, as we've talked about before -- it's just that I want to get all nostalgic for current Tyria, not 250-years-of-crumbling Tyria. It's a feeling I look forward to.

Flameseeker Chronicles Nostalgia isn't what it used to be
And now for something completely different

The ArenaNet blog has an update from The Smile himself, Colin Johanson. In the post, he lays out part of ArenaNet's fundamental design policy, which is to always be asking "is it fun?" of the game and any features the devs put in. That's a pretty good policy because games that aren't fun aren't, well, fun. For a game-maker, it seems like making a product people will want to play is a pretty solid choice.

Silliness aside, the blog did highlight one of the strengths of the game: Since there's no subscription fee, ArenaNet doesn't necessarily have motive to keep people around for as long as absolutely possible. Unless you're putting more money into the system via microtransactions, it doesn't really matter whether you play for a day, a month, or seven years (no, don't go looking for that statement in the post). The focus shifts from having a reason that players have to come back every day or week or month to having content available for whenever they feel like picking up the game. Guild Wars 2 isn't a shallow game. Dynamic events, eight jillion (not factually accurate) personal storylines, dungeons, and PvP all mean that there will always be something new and fun to do, and because there's no subscription fee, it'll be there whenever you want. The barrier of "oh man I really miss that game but I don't know that I miss it enough to re-sub" is gone.

One of the benefits of this system is that the Guild Wars games don't have as much of a gear treadmill as you'll find in other games. Rare items are distinguished visually rather than statistically, which means that if you don't care about pizazz, you don't ever have to go chasing rare items. While drops out in the world and from event chests are still random, dungeon completion rewards tokens that can be traded in for specific items, so you're not running a dungeon 400 times to get your first Voltaic Spear (incidentally, another point of nostalgia for me).

This blog didn't sit too well with me. I really think that Guild Wars 2 has some great strengths, and many of those are tied to its subscription fee-less structure, but that wasn't highlighted enough. The set-up of introducing other MMOs and their sub fees and dependence on those numbers left the rest of the blog feeling a little bit off-balance when there was no explanation of exactly how Guild Wars 2's success can be measured. He could've run with it and highlighted how not worrying about sub fees gives developers more design freedom, but instead the article turned to trying to measure something that's almost impossible to quantify.

A difficulty of the "is it fun?" system of measurement is that opinions differ greatly over what fun is. I know people who think that grind is fun (specifically, that it's rewarding, which is a workable substitute for fun in this case -- the point is that it's something they want to do); conversely, the rumblings in the Guild Wars 2 community suggest that there are quite a few people who think that tiered skills and traits are not fun. That, then, is where testing -- like the kind you've been doing every time you've logged into the Guild Wars 2 beta -- comes into play.

Eventually, the question of is it fun will be answered: We'll have box sales numbers and see the general health of the game. We'll notice whether or not we're spending actual money on gems in the Black Lion Trading Company store. All shall be made clear.

As a last note, if I could make everybody click just one link today, it'd be this link to a stunning video of some of the lovely areas of Tyria. The creator used eight hours of the recent beta to take 10,000 (automated) screenshots of locations within the game, and it's, uh, well it's pretty cool.

Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at elisabeth@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.