Friday, 24 August 2012

Guild Wars - Six Years of my Life

Seven years of questing, fighting, winning and losing, casting, slashing, bashing and bruising, exploring, raiding, running and rupting, capping, crippling, poisoning, dazing, blinding, binding, customising, flashing, clashing, charming, farming, emoting, demoting, promoting, buffing, nerfing, chatting, raging, ascending, befriending and finally reaching the ending... Six years of Guild Wars, and finally I stand on the edge of the next chapter. On the brink of a new plunge into waters (at least relatively) unknown. What better time to turn and take one last look at what lies behind?

Early Days in Ascalon

Six years ago, I bought Guild Wars because I had a little pocket money from working as a lifeguard and was looking for a cheap new game to play during my holidays. As I mentioned to Tasha when we spoke on Split Infinity Radio early last year, I seem to remember thinking that the game was single player – so you can imagine my surprise upon logging in when I saw other people running around my luscious Ascalon. This was back in the days of refund points, no titles, heroes or expansions – the game was much more difficult back then (compounded, I’m sure, by my unavoidable newbieness and utterly terrible computer).

I got as far as Aurora Glade before the family computer finally took a turn for the worse and decided to explode. I tried that mission a hundred times and would always crash just before or after we had to attune each of the pedestals with the crystals. I can’t imagine how annoying it must have been for my teammates! Back then, without consumables, PvE skills, heroes and only the core and prophecies skills, every player counted. So, having suffered one-crash-too-many, I eventually lost patience, deleted my character and quit the game. Guild Wars gathered dust on my shelf for a few months.

With a new computer came the ability to actually complete Aurora without wanting to reach through the screen, fashion a neck for Windows and then throttle it. The game was a joy to play on the new machine. I decided to allow my brother to have two of the character slots on my account, so between the two of us we racked up A LOT of hours. Before I knew it, I had completed Prophecies... literally before I knew it, as in, I completed Hell’s Precipice and then headed off to my first term at University (where the network would not allow multiplayer games) thinking that I still had some missions to go. Incidentally, when I completed Hell’s, I did it using the only elite I had at the time – Spiteful Spirit. On a Ranger.
 Thankfully, by the time I returned home after my second term (around Easter 2006) it was about time for Factions to drop.

Forging the Blades

My early days in Ascalon were spent as part of a guild called “Gods Elite Army”. Side note: I’m not Christian, but I think I always interpreted it as “The Gods’ Elite Army” rather than “God’s Elite Army” (grammar buffs, unite!) anyway, the cape was silver with a spider motif so I never really associated it with any Abrahamic religion. At some point the guild leader left and he inexplicably passed the guild on to me. It was only then that it struck me that I don’t think I could, in all good faith, start wandering through Lion’s Arch shouting “Recruiting to God’s Elite Army!” without being struck by lightning. So I unceremoniously dropped the guild into someone else’s lap and set off to create my own.

So, the “Legion of the Blue Blade” was born. The Blue Blade itself never really existed. It wasn’t a reference to Frodo’s sword in Lord of the Rings, as some people seemed to think, I just thought it sounded kinda cool. Those were the halcyon days of Guild Wars in my eyes. This was when the Blue Blades reached their peak – 70+ members, a forum and website, regular guild events and a democratic voting system to appoint officers, all with me and my brother at the helm. We had epic members such as Litle Healing Monk (a perpetual guild-hopper, who seemed to flit in and out of the guild whenever she pleased, but was someone who was always friendly and helpful), Dragonian Wizzard (who pretty much taught me everything I knew about Guild Wars at the time; if me and my brother were the guild leaders, he was our second in command), the Zurrieq brothers (both avid monk players, snarky and sarcastic, but always game for a laugh), Matt Tiger (one of our longest serving and most loyal members) and the infamous Hobo Mania (infamous for what happened while we were on holiday one year – more later).

In our alliance (one which never dropped below 9 guilds, but the composition of those guilds varied almost monthly) we were known for our weekly Big Blue Blade Race – a group race with prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place on the track shown below.

Ah, those were the days. Questing, racing and lots of Alliance Battles and FoW runs – even one ill-fated attempt at GvG. Halcyon days, fo sho. All was well, until one fateful summer when my brother and I were on holiday with the family. I’d left the running of the guild in the capable hands of Litle, Drag and Hobo – our officers. At some point during the fortnight we were away, Hobo Mania lived up to the latter part of his name – in a fit of madness he kicked all our members, every single member of our 70+ guild was nowhere to be found, just myself and my officers remained. Needless to say I was not best pleased, and I kicked him from the guild immediately upon my return – he protested, stating that it was his little brother, but I was furious and would not be moved. It was closing the stable door after the horse has bolted – the damage was done.

The Blue Blades never really recovered from that set back, and though we managed to regain some of the members we lost, we could never quite push back to the levels of our glory-days. We hovered around the 20 member mark for a good many years, and though I still saw Litle about, and Drag hopped on once in a blue moon the Blue Blades eventually shrank down to its current composition – just me and my bro (now with his own account). About a year ago, to mark the fall of the Blades I changed the cape from the vibrant turquoise blade motif on a royal blue background with a white starburst, to a blue rapier and rose on black.

All of the kerfuffle with the guild happened just a few months after Factions was released.

Factions felt like a totally different world (well, I suppose it was) but every environment we’d encountered so far had been vast landscapes: scorching deserts, freezing mountains, sprawling jungles etc. The land of Cantha had us fighting in claustrophobic city streets and through sewers and ratways. At first I didn’t like it – the learning curve was too steep once you were off the starter island and the towering walls of hovels and shanty-lodgings felt cloying and choking. Finally making it to the open fields of the Jade Sea was a huge relief, I found the vibrant turquoise waves and frothy outcrops to be a far friendlier place than the Petrified Forest or the bustling Kaineng City and after the trouble we’d had with Hobo and the guild I needed somewhere a bit more cheerful to spend my time. Our guild had allied themselves with the Luxons by this point, and it felt right to be fighting alongside the rag-tag Luxon pirates and gigantic siege turtles, rather than the pale and dour Kurzicks and their juggernauts.

I developed my skills as an effective guerrilla ranger in Alliance Battles. I tried to teach myself how to predict the movements of the mob from shrine-to-shrine, and how to read the tide of a battle to know when to press and when to retreat. Without tooting my own horn, I think I became pretty effective! More often than not, I would drop into an AB with a PUG and start directing the team around, whether or not they listened was an entirely different matter, but it was one of the first times since the fall of the Blue Blades that I felt in control of something in the game. Using long arrow strokes to show movement, circles to indicate targets and crosses to show where to avoid I could direct a four-man team around all the maps effectively and with half-talented teammates we could effectively hold off most enemy attacks.

When Night Falls we see who the real heroes are

Nightfall brought with it a whole new set of challenges to play with. I enjoyed the campaign and all, but my real interest was with the heroes. I loved coming up with new and interesting skill combinations, I embraced the new(ish) idea of build synergy and the old idea of energy management to come up with teams which worked as well-oiled machines. Inspired by Sab’s exceedingly popular three necro build and the also prevalent dual paragon and dervish/necro build, I set out to create hundreds of my own builds based on the principles of synergy and e-management. I spent a lot of time discussing new ideas and helping out other players on GWguru Hero and AI Section. I even had a couple of people message me in-game to thank me for my help and to tell me that they used builds I had posted and really enjoyed them.

With the introduction of Nightfall my PvP focus shifted dramatically. I’ve never been one for organised PvP – I’ve never liked using vent, and I don’t like the kerfuffle of trying to gather enough people to GvG or HA, so the new format of Hero Battles suited me perfectly. “A whole team who would follow my commands to a tee without complaining or messing around? Sign me up!” Teams were composed of yourself and three NPC heroes. You picked the builds and set their gear, then entered the fray. Battles were fought on relatively small arenas, where you capped shrines in an effort to accrue more points and gain more kills than your opponent and his team.

Hero Battles were like a game of chess – you had your four pieces (yourself and 3 heroes) which you directed around the battlefield. You had to be aware of where you and your heroes were and the opponents they would be facing at every moment of every match. If you had the upper hand, you had to press like there was no tomorrow. If you were on the back foot, you had to know how and where to retreat. I liked it because it involved a lot of mind-games with your opponent: scaring them with a bold-faced show of power from the start, or holding back and fooling them into thinking that you were weak before unleashing your entire arsenal on one of their unsuspecting heroes all at once – then picking them off one-by-one.

Strangely, I was better at Hero Battles when drunk or... well, “differently minded”, probably because it made me unpredictable. At one point I cracked into the top 100 HB players in the game. But underneath I knew that the format wasn’t getting the love it needed. If it was a stand-alone game, it would have flourished, but every skill-balance was made with GvG or PvE in mind and it almost always negatively affected the HB format (due to certain skills becoming overly powerful when used by a hero). Eventually, in response to dramatically low player populations for the game type, ANet came to the conclusion to shut the format down. I don’t blame them, though I missed it terribly.


One Eye on the Titles, the other on the Sequel

With Eye of the North came the realisation that the game was winding down. The time spent gallivanting around the frozen wastes of the north was mostly spent pursuing titles and scraping together enough gold to buy thousands of points-worth of Frosty Tonics. The same goes for the GW:Beyond project, both were indications that ANet wanted us to start looking ahead to GW2 and gathering the resources to start taking our achievements with us. So, I worked hard. I died a lot. I spent a lot of money. But eventually I got the God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals title. I'd finished.
The game wasn't any less fun, but it had lost it's spark - we were waiting it out. Waiting for Guild Wars 2.
So, here we are, in the present day. 7 years down the line, and what have I learned?

If you want to have something to show your achievements, you have to be willing to work your ass off for them. I didn't get GWAMM by begging, I got it through hard work and perseverance (if you know how many times I lost survivor, you will see where I'm coming from). I also achieved it by having a lot of fun, with a lot of fun people. The people I will spent GW2 with will no doubt be a whole different group of people, but I'm sure they will still be a heap of laughs.

I have a whole section of my life which is punctuated by memories of Guild Wars. I'll carry them with me for the rest of my life.

But now, I think, I'm ready to start making some new ones.

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