Recounting the Asura in Guild Wars 2 BWE #3.
- TemperHoof (July 2012)
Adorable and goblin-like, the ancient race known as the Asura made a big impression during the Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event #3. They look like a cross between half a dozen species, all of which trying to cram the cutest features into a squishy-faced little ball of huggable genius. Imagine someone Stitch-ing Rabbits, Koala Bears, and Gnomes together to come up with something that belongs in a Disney film.
But their cuteness aside, the Asura have a remarkable kind of charm that captured the heart of this author. Yet it wasn’t love at first sight, of this I can assure. Actually it took me a while to really catch on to what was happening and how best I should feel suited in that world that ArenaNet has clearly put a lot of time into building. The following now is my spoiler-free recount of my Asura experience and why I chose to devote nearly my entire weekend to realizing why it is I now want to play the Asura even more.
Once upon a time there was a race of short, stubby little Care Bear-like creatures. The magical geniuses of their world, they perfected the lost art of summoning and created golems with silly names. Their city was complex and difficult to navigate yet a true splendor to behold with a unique appearance and a nifty implementation. They often considered themselves the most brilliant of all the races, and despite their small size they made up for it with massive amounts of magical power and attitude. That’s right I’m talking about the Tarutaru; Final Fantasy XI’s premier short-but-powerful playable race.
Anyone who has played Final Fantasy XI can easily find the similarities between the two races, and since I was a resident of the Federation of Windurst for 9-years — it’s very difficult for me to ignore them. When I first hopped into Guild Wars 2 this weekend, the first thing I did was attempt to make a classic Tarutaru character known as Shantotto. For Final Fantasy XI fans she is best known for her manic magical exploits and her signature condescending laugh. Making a Tarutaru just felt right for me, and when I got into the game there was a similar feeling and handling.
Yet in many ways, the Asura outshine the Tarutaru — and that is due to the world builders over at ArenaNet who established Metrica Province and Rata Sum; the Asura starting zone and capital city. When I first dropped into the game I had little idea on what exactly what was happening and what I should expect from the Asura. My experience with them does span back to Eye of the North and Guild Wars, but I didn’t read the novels which left me with little understanding of the key story character featured in the event — Zojja.
Long after I had finished the event and began working on the Personal Story, I discovered the importance of Zojja and learned more about her personality and attitude. So my very first impression of the Asura was a bit confusing, especially being dropped into what felt like the end of an event I missed out on. Surrounded by a bunch of weak golems going on what was supposed to be a rampage, I was able to adjust my controls and get a handling for the feel of the game once again.
At that point I didn’t pay attention to the surroundings as much as I should have. Being too busy trying to assert my brain to handling the character and getting comfortable, understanding the story surrounding me was falling to the sidelines. It wasn’t until I got to the third mission of the Personal Story did I finally understand just what was going on during the introduction event. I went back and replayed it, taking notice to all of the key characters and listening clearly to their dialogue — I started to realize I not only missed a lot of things during my first play through, but that it was also very easy to miss them too.
Listening to NPCS
I have to admit, there really wasn’t a lot of talk about Guild Wars 2 having so much spoken dialogue throughout the game. But the dialogue is not just simply spoken in cut scenes, but throughout the entire world. Hearing various characters talking and conversing before and after cut scenes or performing everyday tasks was something I didn’t expect and had to get adjusted to. Much of the information I needed to understand the Asura starting event was not even executed in a cut scene of quest box — it was just naturally spoken by NPCs as it was happening.
The more I explored the region, the more I heard NPCS talking to one another. This not only made the world feel more lively, but it also helped me to get a much better feel for the personalities and culture of Asuran society without having to do any extended research or reading. I admit it took me a few hours to get into the habit of doing it, but by the end of the weekend I found myself just standing around waiting for NPCs to converse. Often they’d have something vital to mention, or what they’d talk about would relate to an event about to unfold, or maybe it would mean another event was about to branch off of that one.
Even the casual banter of the world gifted me with knowledge of the workings of Asuran Government; who the Inquest really were; what happened between Guild Wars 1 and Guild Wars 2; and so much more. After exploring and listening to a lot of NPCs, I felt very much at home amongst the Asura and felt like one of them. I could recount history enough to hold a decent conversation with anyone who was actually interested in Asuran culture — and all of this was absorbed just by simply playing the game normally.
Heck one of my favorite NPC chats was something which reflecting my own thought exactly at the moment. Having recently come across a complex full of crafters, I wondered why there was no cook. Not but a moment after thinking it, I heard an NPC complaining about the very same thing! Instantly I had the urge to join on the conversation, the only problem was that it was just a bunch of NPCs talking — yet the effect was potent enough to make me laugh. I found that I listened to the NPCs more and another Asura suggested heading north for some lunch. Taking their advice, I did venture north to see if I could find anything related to cooking. While I didn’t find anything of value to me, the fact that I ventured there purely based on eavesdropping an NPC conversation leads me to want to find more. Who knows where I’d be led to next!
By the end of the weekend I was so engrossed with Asuran culture that I swear if ArenaNet had an Asuran library somewhere in Rata Sum I’d have sat down and read every book — especially if one of those books gave me a clue into some sort of ability to build and control my own pet golem. After watching Zojja and her golem, I really do want my own Mr. Sparkles.
Being Part of the World
Since this really was my first weekend drinking in the PvE portion of Guild Wars 2, this was the very first time I could really experience the fluidity of World Events. I was surprised to see just how big they really were and how large sections of the zone were often devoted to a network of connecting events that required me to pay attention to my surroundings. There were two which were most memorable to me while making my way through Metrica Provence; Power Overwhelming and the Fallout.
I dare not impress upon details, but let me just say that it was interesting to walk into an NPC conversation only to watch it explode into a fight. Then watch as that fight leads to more conversation and additional action. Such actions led me to literally follow the story in progress, taking me to new locations to do something that really did feel important and naturally heroic. I admit, it has more impact when you watch people get captured before your eyes. Then you have to make an effort to save them, working your way into a complex to achieve that goal before time runs out and their precious lives are lost.
Events would lead to some unique rewards. After following many of the key characters in the event, they would temporarily turn into Merchants between event sequences. You could buy items from them that you just couldn’t find anywhere else, and that alone makes the idea of following the event from start to finish even more tantalizing. Many of the events would lead to things I wouldn’t have expected, which led to some rather laugh-out-loud moments. I didn’t realize that going into a cave picking up fragments of a broken Asura gate would lead me to discover an NPC that would later repair a gate and take me somewhere I didn’t anticipate.
Without me, she would fail to achieve her goal and the gate would blow up and the entire event would reset. I actually let the event fail, and I watched as Skrit came and took the fragments back into the cave. The event didn’t just reset and the fragments magically returned to the ground where I got them — it set in motion an actual event to reset the event. Sometimes failing can lead to some interesting alternative outcomes.
Design and Implementation
One of the key things which really stood out to me visually first and foremost was the Asuran Architecture. Never did such strange structures interest me and entice my imagination to proceed as much as these did. Now I’ve played a lot of games, and I’m something of a real nit-pick when it comes to how I feel structures should be handled in a game. One of the big complaints I’ve long had with other games the past ten years is that many of the structures looked and felt awkward. Sure some of them were wonderfully made, but they looked like they were just dropped onto a static terrain map — that’s not the case with Guild Wars 2.
As a matter of fact, the only game before I praised considerably for making the structures look old and part of the environment was Final Fantasy XI. Now ArenaNet has raised the bar with Metrica Province, which in my opinion is by far one of the most visually unique zones in the game. The Asuran structures look both remarkably simple in nature, but deviously complex in their execution which seems to be a trademark quirk of the race itself. The entire zone gives the player a very comfortable Sci-Fi feeling, which goes beyond the simple Fantasy themes one may expect from the game.
Dropping into this zone for the first time was a little jarring. Being surrounded by computers; bright green glowing turbines; mechanized golems and robots; and all of it at the heart of a sprawling jungle was truly something to behold. It was like being dropped into a space port in the middle of a fantasy game without the space or the port. Perhaps the real piece of masterwork is Rata Sum, a city that is nothing short of a floating Rubik’s Cube with structures woven throughout the heart of it. While confusing at first, after a quick run up and down its network of stairways and ramps — players may find it to be one of the simplest cities to navigate. It just looks difficult.
There really is a lot of size and scope to behold, especially when you take a moment to remember that the Asura are a short race by human standards. Their structures however are large and settled very naturally into their surroundings. They don’t feel out of place or abnormal, and even a clear color scheme can be visible throughout everything Asuran in nature. Eventually it can become easy to identify what is an Asuran structure and what isn’t, just based on its color, design, and implementation. Perhaps it’s even a bit optimistic on the developer’s part, seeing such a high-tech structures so passively mingled into the nature around them.
There are other themes though, and the only time structures looked intrusive on the landscape were those made by Inquest — which are sort of the bad kind of Asura. Even their structures reflected their lack of care for the environment. Many areas around them were barren and ripped up and not so naturally nestled as the kinder Asuran structures were. A nice touch I have to admit.
Animation and Quirks
Before the Beta Weekend Event, I didn’t hear a lot about the Asura animations and the subtly involved with them. Watching the amazing facial animations were one thing, but watching their bodies in motion was something different entirely. They are short and stubby yes, but they are extremely animated to compensate for their short nature. One thing no one really took time to mention was the ears. Asura can have big floppy ears and it’s clear there was a lot of work to make those ears more than just static elements.
While the Asuran eyes are big and animated, the ears are even bigger and even more animated. While running they may flop about comically, but when entering into combat they become erect and alert. They stick up and firm up too, directing themselves towards trouble and remaining so throughout combat. By performing emotes, you also are triggering a lot of different animations for the ears too. Cowering can cause the ears to tuck back and become passive, while cheering makes them stick up and become excited. Of course there are plenty of different stages between, but it’s just about as nifty a quirk as noticing the Asura have very sharp teeth.
Yes, they do indeed have dangerous looking chompers beneath those chubby cheeks. When watching them speak, perform spells and various other animations, you’re bound to catch those piranha-like teeth sticking out. After a while, you may find it not only looks natural but in many ways it even makes them cuter — in my opinion of course. But the real icing on the cake is watching the Asura in combat. They hover, climb up on staffs to perform spells, swing their swords so fast they take up like helicopters, and jump around wildly and flip each time they dodge.
What most impressed me though were the simple things. Something as basic as the Ponder emote would have an Asura stop to think. The real beauty of the animation comes when the Asura gets a thought, and there is a tiny twitch of the eyebrow and the eyes just faintly open a little wider. The smile that dawns upon the Asura’s face after the animation is complete is one that suggests a good matter of self-pride, and it really does sell some realism in their nature. They look natural in just about everything they do, which is extremely difficult to pull off in most games and really should be commended. There hasn’t been game animation this keen for short floppy eared characters since the Ratchet and Clank series.
Mindset of the Asura
But of course, perhaps the real reason I felt so at home with the Asura is their mindset and outlook towards life. By simply playing the region and doing various Events related to the Asura, I got a very good taste for what they were all about. Clearly they value intelligence, but it’s that non-stop pursuit of it in a space where there is no one to hinder you from doing so which makes them appealing. The players they are bound to attract are those who not only value thought and thinking but also want to share it openly.
Whether you are a role-player or not: just simply being around the Asura long enough will inspire a desire to learn. Whether or not this is healthy for the game is questionable. Perhaps it may provide too much demand from people who really do want to take on the Asuran mentality and build and design unique inventions they can show off to other people — such a feature is not within the game as far as I know. This can lead to some people becoming very let-down, especially being surrounded by such possibility. Watching so many Asura build golems for their own personal use may lead players to wish to do the same. As far as I know, much of that isn’t actually possible within Guild Wars 2.
Hoping for some new additions to the game is foolish to say the least, but there is always hoping that perhaps there is something to satisfy this desire. But in the meantime, the Asura have plenty to offer when it comes to personality and charm. Players may find it very easy to fall in love with them because of all the races theirs does seem to be the most fleshed out, despite their lack of presence in previous games. Of course of this is opinion and prospective. As I look back upon the weekend, I look back with fondness as I recount each of those things I did in the Asura regions.
After three days I became integrated into the Asuran society and could even feel myself thinking like one of them. Players who are looking forward to Guild Wars 2 should certainly give the Asura a try — especially if they are the learned type. The Asura do not come off as condescending, but friendly in their own superior way. That sort of atmosphere doesn’t turn me off and may not turn off other players either. Several people praised the Asura this weekend, and without a doubt that praise was not in the slightest bit unfounded.
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