“Getting Ready” to Write

I’m scared.

I admit it.

It’s been long enough since I’ve written anything of either length or quality that I actually haven’t started writing anything creatively in the month since I quit my job to be a writer. I’m afraid that I haven’t got anything to say. I’m afraid that none of it will be good. Or that no one will want to read it. I’m afraid that I’m the slacker in Drew Chial’s recent post.

I’ve been trying to get in the right headspace to create something. I had felt so drained of creative energies that I didn’t feel like I could put pen to paper and create anything. I felt that way before.

When I was first starting to take my writing seriously, as a Sophomore in High School (the only Sophomore accepted in the class full of Juniors and Seniors), I stared at a blank page and wouldn’t let it conquer me:

Idiocy

Idiocy stares at me from the gleaming white of a paper that has not been written on. The paper lies flat with no features on its smooth face. Nothing to write. Nothing to hold. Nothing to love down to the depths of my heart and nurture as I would a child. My life is blank for writing is my life and there is none and I want to scream out across the polluted traffic of life that is a city to be carried over the mountains and into a valley of peace so they know that all is not well with the mentality of our souls. A distant cry answers mine and I am taken on a dream to the place that I once called home… and I write.

I write as I never have before. I write of a sense of freedom that captures my heart. I write of the sweet innocence of a child who has not yet been marred by the pessimism of the ages and who, by some bizarre chance, dares to dream. I write of mothers watching their children with the hope that they might be better than their pot-smoking, free-loving parents. I write of a world, a time, that has passed and may be forgotten in the turmoil of a time that does not understand. I write of the fantasies of a dreamer’s dream, the mystical myths of fairies that might whither in the cold, harsh world of a dragon who thrives on the humiliated hearts of the peasant. I write of the promise of a happy world that is adorned by the hopes of men. I write of that promise being broken into tiny shards of glass, that was once a glorious stained-glass window in a cathedral where the sun never shone. I write of the child who was not afraid of dreaming dying, as all the optimism is sucked out of him by his peers, like life-sucking leeches and he becomes a carcass of what he used to be. He becomes like the creatures around him without the daring light of hope in his eyes. He is taken over by the vanities of men and he remembers nothing of his innocent childhood ambitions. He remembers nothing until he sees a child with a starry-eyed look about her and he wants, with all his heart, to be like her again, but he can’t. Instead he wants to take her down to himself and destroy her happiness as people once destroyed his own. In anger, he shatters her dreams and he can almost see them crash down into a heap like a house of cards. Repentantly, he tries to help her fit the pieces back together, but he can’t… the light is gone forever from the dull, gray eyes of a child who knows too much hate.  Idiocy.

Is it quality writing? Not really. But I wrote something, when I had nothing. I needed to remember that. I needed to be reminded that writing takes practice. It’s not something that you turn off or on with a switch as long as there is enough “energy”. Writing almost needs to create its own energy.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I have mentioned before that Brandon Sanderson is among our favorite authors and my husband recently introduced me to a series of videos that were actually taken during one semester of his class at BYU. I’ve decided to follow along with his class a year and a half later. It will give me a chance to learn more about my craft while constantly having manageable goals to reach. Over the course of the semester, each student is meant to produce a novella (35K words), while participating in writing groups and/or workshops. Each week a one thousand word submission is to be sent to the writing group (I’ll likely post mine here) for critiquing.

The first assignment is pretty simple and is composed of two parts. The first, more of a status to return to, a few sentences regarding where you are or what you want to accomplish during the coursework:

Write. Write even when there are no words. Write when there is no energy. Write when angry, depressed, tired, brilliantly happy or serene. Write every day. Just write.

The second part of the assignment is to share something you’ve already written with the writing group (my blog readers!). Technically, I could count Idiocy, shared above. But it’s not one of my favorites and I felt like this was supposed to be on opportunity to introduce the writing group to your style. Who shares something they don’t like as an introduction? Me, apparently. Below, is to make amends. It’s not a story. You may not even like it, but I do, so it’s for sharing. This was from a high school writing practice completely off the cuff, but I love the imagery and flow.

Floating Sky Child

Floating sky child is laughing deliriously and no more trees hear his deep singing. He picks up his feet and plants them precariously on the wind that shakes the world. His old skin falls to the earth, creating yet another mountain and his laughter echoes against it and the skins of his past lives. With each new existence, an ocean of thought is ushered in and the brightness of the sky child’s eyes waxes. He opens his arms and embraces the new thought, new hope. His childish gurgle grows deeper with time and with progression, progress slows to a trickle because the sky child is old. His skin hangs like a canvas sack and he can no longer open his arms to the new. His voice is deep and he sings a melancholy melody that scrapes his own soul raw. He pulls himself from out his skin and it falls to the earth, creating yet another mountain. No more trees hear his deep singing and the floating sky child is laughing deliriously.

Cracked

I haven’t really read much in the last three years. For someone who wanted desperately to be a writer, a published author, in her youth, this is a terrible state of things. I got lost in the rat race, so to speak. Work is pretty much what I did, with very little leisure time. What time I did have was spent in front of the TV or killing dragons on the computer. Brainless. Boring. As little creative energy required as possible

And then the stress started pouring in to fill any and every possible moment where I might have otherwise been capable of creating anything.

I had wanted to move. I lived in a dry, flat, windy place, devoid of the scenery I felt would be conducive to my writing. I tried off and on, when we lived there, to create. I found myself rewriting other people’s stories once I’d had a chance to go back and reread. I hadn’t meant to do it, but I saw their influences and I didn’t feel like I had my own story to tell (I’m not even sure if I do now, but that’s beside the point) and so I stopped writing. I stopped creating. I stopped reading.

I worked.

So, we managed to move. My job is the one we took the transfer on. It’s not an exciting or glamorous job, but it was something I felt I could do. For five years I kept wanting to leave, looking at the money, then deciding I could work a couple more years. There was always something else I wanted to accomplish financially before I felt like I could leave, relying on my husband’s income alone. I was being smart, responsible.

And then everything crumbled. Nothing was right.

It doesn’t really matter what went wrong with the job. There were a lot of things. None of them will matter in two weeks when I’m done.

The point is I cracked.

I broke.

It was like that long list of possible side effects they go over in a commercial for medication. May cause sleeplessness. May cause increased depression or anxiety. May cause suicidal thoughts. I never really thought about it enough to do anything, but I thought about it. That was enough to scare me into analyzing my life. It was enough to scare me into telling my husband that there was a problem and it needed to be fixed. It was enough for me to realize that I had stopped living, I was barely existing, and I was unhappy.

So I quit.

I’m usually not a quitter. I don’t like feeling like I’ve failed at life. Failed at the traditional work life. I almost just quit, no notice given. After all, it’s not like I ever want to work in Corporate America again. But that’s not the kind of person I am. I gave two weeks notice. They asked for two more. I agreed because of who I am and because it needs to be done the proper true way.

Like Auri.

My husband has been trying to get me to read. Like I said, I’ve barely read anything in the last three years. Usually, if I’ve managed to read something, it’s only been what I could squeeze into a vacation or road trip. Bits and pieces of some of our favorite authors, like Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Haydon, and Patrick Rothfuss. He’d been telling me about The Slow Regard of Silent Things by the latter. Kept telling me I would enjoy it. I never found the time or energy to pull it up on my Nook and read it. Remember, I was hardly existing.

Then, at the end of my third to last week at work, he offered me a bubble bath.

Held captive by the bubbles, he sat beside the tub and started reading it to me.

I could tell, not far in, that it would be a story best read to oneself rather than to have read to you. Patrick plays with words. You can’t catch the nuances when it’s read aloud. So I took it from the bath to my bed to read.

I didn’t read it all at once. I wasn’t ready for that. I had to dip my toes in. I had to nibble at it. I had to take it in the bite-sized chunks that it was given. As short as it is, I don’t think Auri’s tale is one that is meant for straight-through reading. Not for me anyway.

I saw myself a little too much in Auri. She’s cracked. She’s broken. She has a panic attack in the middle of the story that could have been written for me. It was written for me. I felt almost ashamed at the similarity. I’m not supposed to connect too personally with a crazy main character. One that crashed and burned so spectacularly in the “real world” that she has to hide away in her own reality and practice her craft in secret.

I wasn’t going to tell anyone.

Then I read Patrick’s note at the end of the story. The story of the story. The story of how so many other people reacted (in some ways at least) the way I did. The story of how this is a story that isn’t for mainstream. “This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.”

This story is for me.

And it helped me share my cracked and broken bits.

And it helped me to write something.

RIFTing with a Guild

Ok, so I don’t often write about gaming. In fact, this blog is so little used I bet most of you forgot that it existed.

But I am a gamer, at least casually (don’t judge) and so there is occasionally something I have to say on the topic.

Feeling Lost

It feels like Psyn and I have been drifting through various games over the last year and a half. We used to play WoW pretty solidly for a couple of years, until SWTOR came along and wooed me with fantastic personal story lines. Not long after my smuggler reached max level, Guild Wars 2 was released & the chance to play a pretty game (I have previously said I am drawn to such) without having to pay monthly for it, pulled me in for a while. The world story wasn’t enough to really pull me in longterm and besides being able to be in higher zones, I didn’t really feel like my character progressed as she leveled. A couple of months later the new WoW expansion was released and I wanted to explore all the pretty new zones. Again, it wasn’t long before the charm and freshness wore off and we started dabbling back in the other games that we had played off and on for 18 months (with several months of non-gaming thrown in).

You see, we wanted to play, but had a hard time finding something that really engaged us.

Enter the RIFT Free-to-Play announcement

A little history now. We had played RIFT for about a month after release. In fact, it was the game that inspired my first ever gaming blog post. Since we were subscribed to another game at the time, we decided that would couldn’t afford to be subbed to two at once. We pretty much decided to stick with our other game because that’s where all of our friends were at the time. Besides, as much as I loved chaining rifts the night I spoke of in my first post, when I came back to that lower zone on a new character a few weeks later, I was behind the pack that formed at release and hated it. The zone was pretty empty and when I tried to tackle rifts with the one other person that was on, we were slaughtered. I determined that the rifts and invasions were too imbalanced for someone who prefers to spend their time in leveling zones. We moved on.

So, back to this drifting between games time. I actually hadn’t really paid much attention to the F2P announcement from RIFT. Psyn did, though, and decided to update the game on his computer to see if much had changed. He talked to me about it and I decided to install it on my computer (we had played when I had a previous computer) to give it a go. We had a blast! Apparently we also both had strong cases of beginner’s luck. Psyn looted a purple Gulanite Hellbug mount from the first rift we closed together (I got a pet) and then I picked up an orange Deeps’ Lock Box just outside Sanctum while questing. The orange one can offer the highest level rewards if opened at max level, including epic gear.

Something was definitely different this time around. The zones were packed due to the F2P announcement, but everything also felt so much smoother and balanced. The rifts no longer seemed overpowering to the people available to fight them. They were still definitely a challenge, but we found we could 2-man some rifts and even solo them if we took things slow. The first time we had played, all the soul choices had overwhelmed me. This time I used a premade role and only started deviating from it when I was comfortable. We went mad with crafting and gathering (always a good sign if we’re willing to invest time/energy in these) and just continued to have a fun time.

Social Creatures

I mentioned on Google+ that we were having a fun time with the game and my friend Belghast over at Tales of the Aggronaut invited us to join a chat channel so we could chat while playing. Until this point, we’d pretty much been on our own, the two of us tackling all the things and tearing them up. We are inherently social people, though. The thing that pulls us into a game more than anything is that sense of community and friendship. We were getting a bit lonely. So, we chatted away in the channel whether anyone else was there or not.

But apparently something else was going on with the people whose guild we would eventually join. A group of friends and gamers who had banded together through several games and were existing as a guild within a guild were at a point where a decision would need to be made about where and how they were going to have a permanent home. The overwhelming response was that they wanted their own guild again, even if it meant building it from the ground up. As prospective members, we were asked to vote and we were 100% behind the small but close-knit guild plan. The guild was formed while we were on vacation, but we were quick to join once we were home on Monday night.

What a world of difference the right guild makes

Within minutes of joining the guild and logging in to their mumble server, a large portion of the guild had mentored down to my cleric’s level and were tearing rifts apart for an invasion in Freemarch. Together, we destroyed the guild quest to close 100 rifts and it felt incredible to be a part of something. Could they have closed rifts in higher level zones? Yeah. The rewards would have been the same (thanks to RIFT’s very well balanced mentoring system) but they chose to come hang out with the newbie. Even last night, while playing my higher level (dinged 40 last night!) mage of the opposite faction, a guildie found us and mentored down to clear an invasion in Moonshade (I think that’s the name of the zone).

I suppose what this has taught me is that the people really do make all the difference. Sometimes game features or mechanics push people away. Sometimes it’s just not your cup of tea, like how I felt about TSW. But if two games are created equal (or close to it, because let’s be real, no game is exactly like another) in terms of fun, but one has a community where everyone is out for themselves and another encourages helpful behavior, I know which one I am choosing. Especially if you have a chance to be in the kind of guild I found. It’s a guild where everyone who joins is the friend or family of someone who is already there. It’s a guild where the rules are simple, but if followed leave you with a home, a community and a family instead of just a guild tag. Can the guild accomplish great things together? Of this, I have no doubt. But being a part of close, tight-knit group, whose goal is just to have fun and enjoy the game?

Yeah, this is the home for me.

Whispers

Because Jason really liked this one, I’ve decided to share it with all of you:

She couldn’t block them out anymore. Every moment a new whisper assaulted her ears like a warhorn, each louder and more urgent than the next.

Fiona wasn’t sure how or when they started because at first they were soft, quiet undertones that murmured like a gently flowing stream. Constant, but almost soothing in their constancy. She quickly became used to them. They were a conglomeration of unintelligible babbling. If any emotion could be associated with them, she would have said they were cheerful. The tone always lifted her mood and she would find herself smiling for no reason.

That’s when the rest of the village started to whisper about her being touched. Initially, they just smiled and nodded, taking more time to explain things to Fiona than was really needed. They thought she was simple. Fiona would grow impatient with them and snap that she wasn’t an idiot. The tone of the whispers changed, both those of the villagers and the ones that apparently only she heard. The villagers became suspicious of her and the whispers became suspicious of them, catching the young woman who heard both in the middle. She didn’t smile as much anymore.

The whispers no longer soothed Fiona. They made her odd. They made her uncomfortable. They made the children throw rocks. The whispers snarled in retaliation and the children ran from the scowl on her face.

Everything was spiralling out of control. Fiona couldn’t stop the whispers and she couldn’t make things right with the village. She tried to explain past the screaming whispers in her head, but her words only made the mothers huddle their children close as the men fingered the hilts of their knives. Their eyes threatened, so the whispers threatened in return. Volume dropped to a low, angry rumble and it terrified Fiona.

She had no choice. She had to leave or either the whispers or the villagers would kill her. They would crush her between their anger.

Guild Wars 2 – My First 5

Outside of a few glitches, my early access experience went pretty smoothly. Unlike other launches, I didn’t have to wait in queue to log in, and although other people experienced login issues, I wasn’t one of them. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t playing in the first few hours of the launch. In fact, I didn’t even log in until almost lunchtime on Saturday because my husband and I had been celebrating our anniversary out of town.

The first order of business, of course, was creating my new characters since none of the beta weekend or stress test characters/items/cash carried over into launch. I had a hard time deciding who my Fynralyl would be since I both wanted her to fit my idea of who Fynralyl is as well as be a character I would enjoy playing past more than the first few levels. While I am really interested in most of the professions, I knew that certain ones, especially melee classes like the Thief, wouldn’t exactly be my cup of tea so to speak.

My very first Fynralyl was a gnome rogue in the first D&D game I played with my husband. There is a Thief class in Guild Wars 2, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I was very hot/cold with the class and knew I didn’t want to tie up my main name on a class I just wasn’t sure about. So, I started looking at other Fynralyls in my gaming history. More recently, I’ve had a Sith Inquisitor and a Smuggler in SWTOR, as well as my Shaman in WoW that were all named Fynralyl. The Elementalist could stand in for either the Inquisitor or Shaman in different ways, but I still think of the Elementalist as a mage-like character, so knew that wasn’t going to feel right either. Engineer is probably the closest to a Smuggler in GW2, but I had no love for the small amount of time I played one. Engineer was definitely not going to be one of my first five GW2 characters created. I was stumped. I wanted my first character to feel right as Fynralyl because no matter if another class levels faster or gets more playtime, I still think of Fyn as me.

Another first Fynralyl was the very first one I played in an MMO. Not long before Wrath of the Lich King came out, I started playing WoW with my friend (and within a few hours my husband joined in as well). My first Fynralyl, created on a PvP server no less, was a Holy Paladin. Since my friend was a Prot Warrior, we leveled all the way from 1-80 as a team and had a blast doing it. I never switched to another spec. I learned to help DPS with Holy Shock and Judgements, stacking crit to have them count (and score bonus heals). I was Holy and I was a healer, but I wasn’t just a healer.

I was hesitant to try a Guardian in Guild Wars 2 because of the whole melee thing. I’d heard that it was a lot like a pally, but I was still not sure I wanted to have a melee main, despite the fact that my Shaman was Enhancement and I’d leveled another Paladin as Prot (also named Fynralyl, but on a different server), I still didn’t think I would do well with it. And let’s face it, we all want to do well and have fun in a new game. I had played a Guardian for a few minutes during the only beta weekend I was involved in and I remembered liking the mace ability that felt like Consecration. I said, sure… why not! Worst case, I would hate playing it and I’d have to delete and reroll as a new profession.

So, as a nod to the very first Fynralyl, who was a gnome rogue in D&D and to my first MMO Fyn, who was a holy paladin, the first official character I rolled in Guild Wars 2 was Fynralyl, Asura Guardian:

Isn’t she adorable?

Naming and creating my next four were a lot easier. Vystrie, Norn Mesmer:

Kturra, Charr Thief

Nyevnen, Sylvari Elementalist

And finally, Lindria Lorlach, my Human Ranger, who is named after the first character I ever made in D&D, even before I made the name Fynralyl Raydona.

I spent most of the weekend playing on Fynralyl and had a great time. I did, however, have a few gripes that others have likely gone into more detail about. First off, grouping was not working well. A big part of that was the instanced overflow areas. I play MMOs as a way to play with specific people in my life, you know, like my husband. If we didn’t have our timing down, one of us would be in an overflow while the other was in the main map. Someone might then recommend that we not take the “travel” option and stay in overflow. Except this doesn’t work either as there are multiple overflow instances and no way to bounce between them. In fact, we came out of an instanced story that we’d participated in together as a group in a party, and were then put in different overflow instances. It was beyond frustrating. I know that it was a major issue for my friend Anexxia and her guy. I do, however, have every confidence that they’ll adjust it as they get everything ironed out during launch. I just hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Another bone of contention for me is that the Black Lion Trading Post (ie: auction house) was down all weekend. Now, I’m not one who plays the Trading Post to make as much cash as possible, just to have it. I do, however, like selling off excess mats and finished goods so they’re not cluttering my bags or becoming vendor fodder. Not having an outlet meant that not only are my characters strapped for cash, but the single small bank that they all have to share is bursting at the seams. While raw and refined mats each have their own slot in the shared crafting bank, if you exceed the max stack, those items can’t be deposited. Also, any component pieces you make (like settings, rings and hooks for my jewelcrafter) have to go into the main regular bank that only has 30 total slots. Combine this with the finished goods I haven’t been able to unload and my bank already looks like this:

Again, I’m sure they’ll bring the Trading Post up as soon as possible, but this only served to highlight how limited storage really is in the game. If it were just limited storage, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s also the only method to move items between characters unless you have a trustworthy friend to mail items through. Unlearned dyes that I want a specific character to use and crafted weapons, like the dual axes in the above screenshot, have to be stashed somewhere while I wait to get things sorted out. Don’t get me wrong, the shared bank space has its perks, but I think it should be in addition to character specific space. Just like five sisters can’t share a single bathroom without catfights, 30 slots of non-crafting material bank space is enough to start a riot between my five girls.

Even with these couple of gripes I have, I’m still having so much fun playing my new game. Guild Wars 2 is definitely my kind of game. Off I go to explore some more!

TSW & How I Prefer Pretty Games

It seems like every one of my gaming posts lately has begun with a disclaimer about screenshots. I was a lot more diligent this weekend, when I tried The Secret World, hitting printscreen quite a few times during character creation, cutscenes and out in the world over the course of Friday and Saturday. Anyone who has already been playing the game at this point is already facepalming on my behalf. Sunday morning (or late afternoon, as the case may be) I got on my computer, fairly well done with the experimenting I wanted to do, ready to sift through my screenshots and upload the gems I would use for this post. I couldn’t find my screenshot folder. I hunted and hunted through every sub-folder related to the game and just couldn’t find it. I asked Psynister to help me look and he couldn’t find it either. I scoured the internet looking for the location and stumbled upon a key piece of information that would have been handy to know before we started the weekend. In TSW, you don’t take pictures with printscreen. It’s F11. Seriously. In every game I had played up to this point, printscreen had been the key to hit if you wanted a screenshot. There had been no exception for me until this weekend. I didn’t even think to check because it had never been an issue before. I had played all I cared to of TSW and really didn’t feel like deleting and rerolling each of the three characters I had made. Defeated, I abandoned the office and sat in the den watching Downton Abbey and playing Chronicles of Albian on my laptop. So, no screenshots for you. Again. Sorry. Never fear, though. Hubby is a glutton for punishment and went back in to grab some screenshots, which you can check out in his post.

A Little History

Gaming, for me, has always been about escaping into another world for a time and I admittedly favor pretty games. When it was time for me to buy my first console and stop borrowing my brother’s, I chose a Sega Dreamcast, mainly because it had the best graphics capabilities at the time. Skies of Arcadia was, and still is, my favorite Dreamcast game. It was later ported over to the Playstation 2, but there was a certain magic about that game in it’s original Dreamcast format. Besides having interesting story, fun combat and innovative three dimensional movement controls, the world was vibrant and enveloping. The artistic styling of the game lent itself to imaginative play because it wasn’t trying for hyper realism. It allowed for an easier suspension of disbelief.

Top of the line graphics compared to today’s games? No, not really. It was incredible for the time, though, and is a great example of the games I choose to play. It was colorful, engaging and as far removed from my day to day life as I could get. It had steampunk elements before steampunk was cool. It made me want to explore everything and I could get lost in the game for hours.

I was not initially interested in The Secret World for several reasons. First off, being set in the modern world, it wasn’t appealing as an escape for me. I definitely prefer games that are set in a different world entirely than the one I’m living in, or at least so far in the past or future that it doesn’t remind me of real world politics and problems. Secondly, the visual style of the game tends toward the hyper realism that turns me off. I prefer to have graphics that are artistic and removed from real life, but no less alive. When graphics tends towards realism, but fall short, I only end up disappointed (more on that later). Finally, I’ve got so many games coming up, that adding another subscription for a game that didn’t reach out and grab me, just wasn’t an option (more on that later as well).

To celebrate six months since the game went live, FunCom announced a free to play weekend with some bonuses for current subscribers. Since I have a lot of friends who absolutely love the game and are entirely drawn in by the story, I decided to take advantage of the free weekend to give it a try. After all, I hadn’t expected to enjoy Guild Wars 2 as much as  I did, and if the story was as good as everyone said it would be, it might be enough for me to look past the parts I found unappealing. Be warned, this game is not my style, so this review may be more critical than you’d like, but it’s an honest critique of my experience. Also, since it’s based on my experience, I will be referencing other games for comparison.

Character Creation

Let’s start off with my deal breaker: Three character slots. Period. There may be an option in game (I didn’t look for it) to buy additional character slots, but it looked to me like you only get three by default across all servers. I am a huge altoholic. I easily have 20+ characters in SWTOR and don’t even get me started on the huge number of characters I played in WoW. I have hit the 50 max characters per account more than once in that game. It strangely makes me appreciate the five character slots you can start with in Guild Wars 2. Still not nearly enough, but it suddenly doesn’t look nearly as stingy. Especially considering a subscription isn’t required for GW2, but it is required for TSW. If I was paying a monthly subscription, I would definitely expect to have more access.

Since I had three slots to play with and there happened to be three societies, I created one of each. All of the swearing in the Illuminati society was a turn-off. Besides not using that much foul language myself, it also reminded me of a kid trying too hard to be “cool”. If it hadn’t been so excessive, I might have been interested in the society itself from a roleplay perspective. I could see myself getting behind the Templar’s cause. It reminded me more of ancient societies and it could be very interesting if they brought in more history. My last character that I created was a Dragon. It’s the one I ended up playing more by default than anything else. It’s not really one to get passionate about. If anything, I was a pawn for them, but content to be so.

Character customization was fairly limited. There is only one race, since it all takes place in the “real” world. Even then, I felt like I was having to work with the same unattractive woman’s face each time. To say I was unimpressed by the options to make my character really look the way I wanted would be an understatement. As far as customization goes, it had by far more options than WoW, a little fewer than SWTOR (if you dont’ count the outfits, which aren’t very exciting either) and far less than GW2. Now, I do understand that there’s a lot more you can do in-game with the outfits, but they’re purely cosmetic and I don’t really play the dressing room game. I think maybe I didn’t care for the character creation because it just isn’t my style. It reminded me of the fairly limited, unexpressive models you find in-game like SIMS. Trying too hard to look “real” they just miss the mark. Again, style issues, but to me they’re important.

Gameplay

Once I got going and started to learn the controls in the game, I found myself enjoying the game more than I thought would. Still not entirely my thing, but I could begin to see how my friends could be such diehard fans. There were a few things that drove me nuts, though. I’m sure I would get used to some of them over time, but I’m not sure the time investment would be worth it to me.

Maybe I’m too much of a traditional RPG player, but I love leveling up. There are no character levels in this game and it drives me a little batty. You still gain experience, but instead of leveling up, once you reach an experience threshold you’re granted skill points or ability points, which you then need to apply to the appropriate interface. While this grants a certain level of flexibility, I feel like there are more drawbacks than advantages to the system. My first response was that I didn’t like not knowing how high leveled (or “skilled” rather) a character was. There is no outward display of the amount of skill or ability points a character had earned. Since the visible gear also doesn’t progress in complexity as you progress through experience thresholds, there really wasn’t a way to tell. While this may not be as important as it would be in a game that has a lot more world PvP, I still felt like it was hindering the sharing of basic information about one’s character. Additionally, as I started to get upgraded gear from missions, I found out that I had to choose to spend skill points in upgrading a gear slot instead of ability. By not having “levels” the game makes gear dependent on “skill” in a specific slot. I hated having to choose between upgrading my skill with my weapon or being able to equip my mission granted gear.

Having limited active missions was also highly frustrating. I would go to pick up a mission and get a message saying that a current mission would be paused while I completed the new one. Given the vast number of missions spread all over the area between various NPC’s my choices were either to accept the quest while pausing something I was already work on or just skip it, because I sure wasn’t going to remember to go back and get it again. Missions also had a tendency to send you all over the map. While I love exploring different areas, I don’t like running through the same graveyard six times to kill zombies, chase ravens, deliver a body part… you get the idea.

After hearing all of my friends rave about the story in TSW, it’s no surprise that it’s the part I liked best. I can definitely see that getting deeper into the story, might draw someone in. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough for me. There were a ton of cutscenes, but even though I enjoy them in other games, I felt disconnected to them in TSW. First off, there was no interaction. One of the things that makes picking up missions in SWTOR so great is the opportunity to interact and engage with the NPC. In TSW, you see your character there, but you say and do almost nothing. Instead of WoW’s wall of text quests, you end up with cutscenes of information deluge. The first few are interesting, but more often than not, I found my eyes glazing and I got sleepy. The story might be fantastic, but the way it was presented did not pull me in. Also, personal gripe: Cutscenes where your character or NPC only have two mouth positions, open and closed, so they look like muppets. If you’re going to put in a ton of cutscenes, please try to make the mouths form the same shape as the words they’re using. It’s not perfect, but at least SWTOR tries.

Visuals

I’ve already touched on this a little bit, but this is probably my biggest negative view of the game. I’m not saying that the graphics are bad, really, because there are some really beautiful things they work in and the amount of detail can be impressive. It just really isn’t my style. Trying to be on the realistic side, but not quite getting there makes it difficult for me to stay engaged. Everytime I see an NPC’s mouth move wrong in a cutscene, it detracts from the experience. As I’ve said before, I play games as an escape from the real world, and the more artistic (sometimes even cartoonish) the visuals are the more interested I am. I love vibrancy and depth of colors. Those are the places I like to be. There may be more engaging areas later in The Secret World, but I don’t know that I would ever reach them.

I guess that’s what it boils down to for me. I like pretty games and this one isn’t my kind of pretty. It might be your kind of pretty (or appealing, enjoyable, etc), but it isn’t mine. While I appreciate the opportunity I had to play the game for free, I can say that the visuals alone would be reason for me not to buy the game, let alone pay a subscription fee. It doesn’t look or feel like I escape that I play to experience.

TL&DR: Tried The Secret World, many gripes, a few positives, but it’s just not pretty enough to pay for.

And since I love pretty games, I’m going to leave you with this, my unofficial personal vista I found in Guild Wars 2 during the recent stress test:

Free to Play

I’ll be honest. I’ve never been a fan of the Free-to-Play model because it usually translates to Nickel-and-Dime-to-Play-via-Microtransactions model. I know myself. I’m a spender. I could definitely see myself paying more via microtransactions than a subscription. I also hate feeling penned in. The potential of data restrictions on my phone makes me bonkers, so I’ll be paying full price for phones as long as it means I can keep my unlimited data. Monitoring usage or spending is so not something I want to do with my fun time.

With Guild Wars 2 coming up, I had to start rethinking my stance on the issue. In GW2, there is no subscription model. It’s purely a purchase and play game, with the option of buying cosmetic items in the cash shop. I’m not sure yet how much I might be tempted by things in the cash shop of GW2. There’s plenty in the game to enjoy without paying for extras. I’ve been ready to accept this, especially since I think it will be a casual playground for me. I just want to run around in the game and explore all the beautiful world.

Then there was the rumor (now confirmed) that Star Wars: The Old Republic was going free to play (F2P). See, here’s where I had a problem. Usually when a previously subscription based game goes F2P, they completely convert over. You suddenly find yourself in a position of having to pay for things you didn’t have to think about before. This was the last thing I wanted for my current MMO of choice. It would be enough to drive me away.

But EA actually did something smart here. Instead of going pure F2P, like I had feared, they went for a hybrid. Customers can play to level 50 for free (with restrictions) but they can also choose to have a fully unlimited playing opportunity by subscribing (or remaining subscribed) to the game. There’s really a model for just about everyone (I’ll get to the exception shortly). I went from being very anti-F2P, to actually considering taking the F2P model in place of my subscription. All because they didn’t take my subscription away from me. Isn’t it crazy the way that works sometimes? I would have hated it if I didn’t have the option of keeping my subscription, but now I may happily give it up because the F2P model being offered covers most (if not all) of what I want to still enjoy in the game.

I can’t go into the all the details right now because my gaming news access is limited at work, but I will post some links later for those that want more information. However, here’s a brief rundown on the more pertinent details of the news:

Subscription: Remains $14.99 USD/month, and includes all current access, plus priority in login queues and bonus cash shop currency. As far as I can tell, subs lose nothing.

F2P: Unlimited class story content through level 50. Limited access during character creation, limited access to methods of travel, limited number of warzones, flashpoints and space missions each week. Extremely limited Galactic Trade Network access (to hinder F2P credit farmers I assume) and NO OPERATIONS.

Class story is, by far, the most important reason I play SWTOR, so I’m very happy to see that no matter which choice I make, I will be able to enjoy them fully. Character creation restrictions would bother me if I hadn’t already created most of my characters. This would only be an issue if for some reason they decided to retroactively restrict when an account goes F2P. I don’t see this happening, as I had actually been paying for a subscription during the time the characters were created. I’m not sure about limited travel options, but we’ll have to see on that one. As far as warzones, flashpoints and space missions go, I don’t see them as an issue for myself. Besides running new characters once or twice though The Esseles or Black Talon, I avoid all of the above. Limited access to the GTN may be an issue, just because I use it to unload my excess gear and mats. Again, not sure how severely restricted, but we’ll have to see.

By far the biggest limit on F2P accounts with the new model will be the zero access to Operations, which are SWTOR’s version of a raid and the primary endgame content. Now, this isn’t a big deal for me personally, because I’m not big on endgame anyway, but I know that there are many in the community that this will impact. They really only have two choices if Operations are the only thing they’re interested in: Subscribe or don’t play. Now, I don’t think there’s anything to say they couldn’t re-sub for new content, then drop back to a F2P model while waiting for new content. I think a lot of them will do this. However, I think most will just skip it and get their endgame content elsewhere. Again, it doesn’t affect me directly, but I do love to see others happy and excited to play the games I love.

Will I go F2P with SWTOR? I don’t know, yet, but the chances improved greatly today when I was able to find out more about it. I’m looking forward to playing both GW2 and SWTOR over the next few months. There’s also a chance we will pick up the Mists of Pandaria expansion, so being able to drop my 2nd sub (locked into Blizzard’s Annual Pass right now) would definitely be nice. Maybe play with the pandas for a couple of months, then drop that sub too and just play my free games.

Nice to feel like I have options.