Fall has started to paint the trees around here this time of the year. The morning air is brisk but the days are mild and sunny. Sunlight touched leaves turn from crimson to copper and gold. The brilliance of fall is breathtaking before it submits to winter cold.
Fall is a tricky season to get right in MMOs for its wide spectrum of colors and different moods. The Plains of Ashford in GW2 come to mind or LOTRO’s Trollshaws, both stunning in their own right. That reminds me that I wished games simulated the turning of seasons more dynamically and persistently than they usually do – just imagine Elwynn Forest going through the seasons with you, instead of seasonal themes being divided by static zones.
MMO forests be it fall, winter or spring, are some of the most popular zones among the player base. Design-wise I imagine it’s easier to create player immersion with a forest setting than a desert or plains, so plentiful are your options with forests. That makes them more design intense for sure, yet also more rewarding when done right. And then there’s jungles; forests of a different kind which by my anecdotal experience, are a lot less popular somehow than the classic, northern European or Canadian role models. Before Heart of Thorns launched, several bloggers were expressing their (premature) dislike for the concept of the new zones.
World of Warcraft is well-known for its jungle maps from Stranglethorn Vale and Un’Goro Crater to the more recent Tanaan Jungle. I remember detesting STV with a passion as an early WoW player – the colors, the noises, the way you had to navigate terrain. My partner on the other hand loved questing there, getting all his pages together for the Nesringwary questline while I bought most of mine on the auction house and thank god for no bind on pickup!
So, what is it with jungles that makes me cringe where forests don’t? I’d say most of it is guilt by association because frankly, I have very little experience with real world jungles and I understand there are hundreds of different kinds. Yet simplified, jungles mean heat and damp; they’re wild, sticky, oppressive, unnerving, chaotic and dangerous in my mind. And there are mosquitoes! Forests on the other hand are cool, composed and quiet. They can be dark and spooky of course but also very reassuring and lonely, in a good way. There is a special German word for the loneliness inside forests that cannot be adequately translated to English: “Waldeinsamkeit” (forest loneliness). It is a feeling of isolation and yet, being solemnly embraced by the forest.
The new zones in Heart of Thorns
I’m hearing good things about the new GW2 expansion so far, particularly about the zone design which is something of a surprise. There’s only so much you dare deduct from pre-expansion announcements, but I was certainly among those unimpressed by ANet’s information on Maguuma Jungle and its altered gameplay at the time. However, it seems my concerns were unfounded: Jeromai reports the jungle in HoT feels a lot different than expected, with amazing zone design and screenshots to show for it. Bhagpuss too has been full of praise since his first day impressions. Two strong votes from fellow explorers for an expansion I had no intention of acquiring anytime soon (damn youuu!).
I am currently overloaded with new games on Steam and subbed to FFXIV and Wildstar, where I have yet to make an earnest attempt at decorating the new plot. Also, I really don’t have much time for gaming at all right now so ARGH……I’ll just ignore everyone talking about the beauty of HoT henceforward, close my eyes and go lalallllaaaaaaaaaaaa I can’t hear youuuuu!