I write this at eight in the morning on the day you will read it. I've been up all night, having spent almost an entire day in a new world.
Our own personal gaming histories are punctuated by days like these. Days where you spring to life in a place that's been built for you to discover. The experience is sometimes joyful, sometimes disappointing, but always exciting. There's always so much promise.
Guild Wars 2 doesn't disappoint. It's the beauty of the world that strikes you first. Your finger moves to the Print Screen button almost as soon as you're in. You're like a tourist stumbling off a train, fumbling for your camera. That first day is special. You'll spend hundreds of days in this world, but none of them will be as special as the first. It doesn't even matter what you do on that first day. Even if you're doing the most boring thing in the world, it will stick with you.
Rabbits. Rabbits everywhere. Killing rabbits. Being killed by rabbits. A s****y little dagger. The repetition of it all. Rabbit. Dagger. Stab stab. Rats. Stab. Dead. Alive.
I remember having to get up from my chair to walk away from Ultima Online. I remember being so completely blown away by it all that I needed to distance myself from the screen. I could barely believe what I was seeing and doing. Rabbits. Rabbits. Stab. Kill. Sure. But here was a world full of people doing their own thing. A living place. I recommended it to every friend. "You have to go to this place." Always "place".
I remember the fear too. I didn't know what I was doing, or what I should do. I wasn't sure what would happen if I died, or what you should keep and what you should sell. I felt like a complete stranger. It felt like I was speaking a different language. That alone was a thrill.
My first day was spent doing mundane, dull things. But nothing is truly dull when you're an alien, trying to fit in. It's been years since I've even looked at a screenshot of the game, and I almost went looking for one just now. But I won't. I want to hold onto the memory of the beauty, of all that potential, of all that mystery, and I want to hold onto it the way it's framed inside my head.
Rabbits. Rabbits. Oh, and houses. People had houses.
The New World
It seems that you can't have a house in Guild Wars 2. You couldn't in the first either, to be fair. You could visit your own Guild Hall, choosing from a handful of different styles, but that was hardly the same. I miss houses in these games. I miss being able to stamp yourself onto the world.
What Guild Wars 2 does have is some breathtaking art design, resulting in towns and cities that are a delight to just wander through. My first day was spent in and around Divinity's Reach, taking in the sights. The Guild Wars team knows what they're good at, and they've put little discoverable vistas into the world, places where you can just stand and take a look at all the lovely work they've done. You can feel how proud they are of what they've built.
The world isn't just a pretty picture, though. There are little moments of craziness kicking off all over the place. Events just springing up around you, with players all piling in to get involved. And with so many new players in the starting areas on that first day, things can get a little bit wild.
World of Warcraft
I never became a hardcore player of World of Warcraft. It never grabbed me to that extent. It was a place that became less friendly with every passing day. But I hammered through it on that first day, loving every moment. I have two strong memories of that day in that new world.
I remember being involved in a fight with other players along a road outside Orgrimmar. My character was in the mix with a group of good guys, and we were firing things off at a pack of bad guy players. There was some kind of watchtower, I think. And we were rushing towards it, then getting pushed back. I was grinning like an idiot while my character did nothing useful. High-level guys doing all the work, and us new guys just happy to be along for the ride. Players just tearing at each other, unsure of what their spells actually did, totally winging it. It felt so wild.
My other memory is of that blimp. An actual blimp you could ride on. Actual transport. You even had to wait for it to arrive. I remember laughing hysterically at my friend Kenny deliberately falling off every time the blimp started to depart. His false apologies. "Guys, so sorry. I fell off again." Jumping off to go and wait with him for the next blimp to come. Everybody filing on like good passengers. Him, just when it starts moving, walking straight off the side. "Sorry guys, I keep falling off." Everybody roaring with laughter.
Before World of Warcraft became the strangely serious, dour pastime we know it as these days, it felt like the Wild West. It was uncharted territory, and it was cartoonish and fun. And then people started chasing their elite this and legendary that and it all became a bit too heavy. It became a world for people who were a bit weird. That first day, I swear, it didn't feel like the world was just a front for stats and numbers.
The New World
I really don't care about the stats and numbers. I barely care about levelling up. The reason why I loved the first Guild Wars was that you could reach the maximum level so quickly, and then just get on with exploring and playing.
I get that you need to level to be able to see the world in most of these games. It's the only reason why I do it. If there's some level-80 dragon somewhere, I need to be strong enough to face it just so that I can see where it lives. "Fight you in a minute, big man. Just checking out your nice cave." I seriously can't wait to see where all those big bad guys live. I'm expecting that they'll be displaying some serious interior decorating skills alongside their special attacks. Honestly, I'm horrible to play with in these games.
"Why is Oskar Latrey just standing looking at a wall? Has he disconnected?"
As new worlds go, Guild Wars 2 might just be the most beautiful one I've ever visited. I'll definitely come back tomorrow, and the next day. And forget what I said at the start of this piece. There's a chance that every day in Guild Wars 2 might be as special as the first. Around every corner there seems to be a new visual delight, and that will be enough to keep me going. I want to see it all.
But beauty isn't everything. Yesterday wasn't my greatest ever first day in a new world.
No world has been sneered at as much as this one. And I understand why people sneer. I do. But my first day in Second Life was unforgettable. It was magic.
Beauty isn't a naturally occurring human thing. A lucky few are born with a version of it. Our artists strive to create it. But, left to our own devices, we are a tacky race of creatures. We live in tacky homes, surrounded by tacky things. We do tacky stuff. We enjoy tacky music. We're tacky. Aliens would look down on us and decide not to visit, saying, "Ooh no. It's a bit... tacky."
Second Life was a virtual world mirror machine, producing the most honest reflection of what we are. It's the truth of humanity let loose in a new world. And does that make it a bad thing? No. It makes it hilarious, because we're ridiculous people.Can a £300 PC match PlayStation 4 performance? Digital Foundry builds and tests its own budget build.
I've never laughed so much while sitting at my PC than when I first visited Second Life. What a day.
- I danced with Kenny (him again) in an otherwise empty disco, after touching a ball that made us fold up into child-sized monstrosities.
- I got picked up in a penis bus. It was a bus shaped like a penis, full of weirdos, and the physics of the thing didn't work. We just bounced around and stuck to people's foreheads.
- I took part in a bodybuilding contest and lost to a rectangle.
- I visited a stately manor where an old man was teaching "correct behaviour" to women, and I ruined their weird fun by throwing wrestling rings at them and speaking in Mexican.
- I got a boob job.
I fell in love with it. My first day turned into a week, and then a month. I bought land (with real money) and built a giant warehouse that contained a full-size wrestling ring and a big screen. One night a bunch of us sat and watched Night of the Living Dead on that screen, and we were all naked. Willies out. Top hats on.
I love visiting new worlds, and I recommend the one Guild Wars 2 offers you. But I'm waiting for another one we can all build together, without restriction. A mad, stupid, horny, funny world we'd later regret. That would be a great first day, wouldn't it?