Welcome to the part of my visit to ArenaNet in which I was not a good group participant! Don’t worry, I was very social and stayed with the group for most of my gameplay, but there came a point during a free play session where most of the group was heading off to quest and I chose to do something different.
Player home instances and starting cities really fascinate me, and here I was with a level one norn character. There was no way I was going to skip exploring her city and her home, so off I went on my own to check out more of the norn starting experience!
I headed into Hoelbrak and stopped to chat with Helbiorn the bouncer. No, seriously. The norn do not mess around and there was a Wolfborn norn near the entrance whose job was to “make sure that the unsavory types we boot out don’t sneak back in.” Evidently I wasn’t unsavory, so I was permitted to continue and explore more of the area.
Any time you approach an NPC, you’ll get a little option to greet them by pressing the “F” key. I enjoy seeing the little bits of dialogue that they have, so I made a point of greeting quite a few. My favorite was the norn child who greeted me with “You smell funny.” He also gave me finger guns, but sadly I was laughing too hard to think to grab a screenshot. (Luckily I happened across him again later and managed to get an image. You can see it in the screenshot album at the end of this post.)
I finally tore myself away from the NPCs and spent a little time running around checking out the environment. As I was scaling hills and ridges I noticed a tiny detail that impressed me: When my character was standing on a steep surface, her feet were positioned to reflect that. One foot was forward on the higher surface, knee bent. It’s a little difficult to describe, but you can see it in several of the screenshots.
Everything in Hoelbrak is built on a huge scale, as is fitting for the norn race. I spent a fair amount of time just taking screenshots of some of the distant areas. My character is in every shot because there is no first-person view, something I’m not thrilled about. I asked a nearby dev about that and she said “we want you to see your character.” Admittedly, the characters are gorgeous and I love looking at them, but so is the environment. In a world where so much attention has been paid to making the surroundings attractive, I’d like to be able to get an unobstructed view. I don’t know if that’s a permanent function that will make it to the live game or if it’s just there for the time being, but I hope to see first-person view available at launch.
That’s to be set aside for later though, because I had bigger fish to fry: Hunter’s Hearth, my home instance! Hunter’s Hearth is the upper level of Hoelbrak’s Great Lodge, so I had a great view of the lower levels from my balcony overlooking – gasp – Jormag’s tooth?! It turns out that you can take a swing at it if you like, so of course I had to run straight down and do just that. I had about as much luck as you’d expect, and I opined that the norn NPCs standing around should really make fun of you when you try to damage it. That’s something else I’d love to see in the final game.
I headed back upstairs to check out the furniture, décor, and occupants. One of the devs was giving me pointers here and there on what I was looking at, which was great because there were so many little details about personal story I wouldn’t have known otherwise. There were some large scroll stands here and there, for example. A level one norn has sadly empty scroll stands, but as he or she progresses they’ll fill up with tales of heart-pounding feats and acts of bravery.
I ran around a bit more, checking out the giant kegs of ale (no self-respecting norn would be without) and chatting with NPCs. I enjoyed the NPCs largely because they aren’t quite ready for launch yet. One norn child said “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” to which I responded out loud “Stranger? You’re in my house!” The dev with me laughed and said that the norn home instance NPCs are still in line for some tweaking, and by launch they’ll know who you are and what you’ve accomplished. I look forward to that, but in the meantime I got a kick out of all these people wandering around my home with no clue who I was.
There is plenty of Guild Wars 2 art in use in Hunter’s Hearth, which I always love to see, but this had an exciting twist added. I found three large canvases on easels in one corner. Two of them had familiar art, but the third was blank. It turns out that one is waiting to be filled with a painting celebrating one of your character’s great accomplishments. I look forward to filling it.
I explored a bit more, taking in the surroundings and grabbing screenshots of various wall and floor decorations and a few vendor carts and wares, before going to investigate a large stairway leading up. There was an intimidating norn guard blocking the way, but he let me through and I proceeded upstairs to Knut Whitebear’s loft. There wasn’t a lot going on at that point, but I spent some time looking around and … well, I couldn’t resist. I sat on his huge, thronelike chair. He didn’t seem to mind.
I was finished in my home instance, but not with exploring the norn area. There was another instance that I was anxious to see: Stonewright’s Steading, the home of Eir Stegalkin. There were statues everywhere, of course, so I spent the majority of the time reading the inscriptions and enjoying the familiar names. Next I visited a nearby tavern to explore a bit: More art on the walls, tables with gigantic tankards of ale, and something roasting on a spit with a bloody chopping block nearby – yum!
I headed back outside to explore more after this. The exterior areas of Hoelbrak are so impressive, because the norn do everything on such a grand scale that you can’t really get a full sense of it indoors. What makes this so impressive (as I’ve mentioned in the past) is the attention to detail that goes with this. There may be pillars a hundred feet tall, but at the bottom you’ll find intricately carved medallions for decoration.
Finally, I stumbled across an asura gate. I made a beeline for it, talking and talking to the gate operator and squinting at the gate itself in the vain hope of finding out what was on the other side. I had no luck, and the highly amused dev behind me finally distracted me by offering to teach me to play Kegball.
Kegball! This is a minigame I will play and play and play. Every new skill I learned had me laughing out loud. The game is essentially norn rugby, only with many kegs of ale instead of a single ball. Kegball is played on ice, and you and your teammates are trying to keep the kegs away from the opposing team while getting them down the “field”.
Picking up a keg gives you five keg-based skills, including some long and short throws that can be used to pass the keg to your teammates, Head Crack to hit your opponents with the keg and stun them, Dive Roll to avoid attacks, and my personal favorite, Pour Ale. This one lets you dump some ale onto the ice, where it instantly freezes and causes your nearby opponents to do a hilarious stepped-on-a-banana-peel style fall that had me in stitches. They flew in every direction; it was great.
When you’re empty-handed you’ve got five different skills – Punch, for dazing your opponent, Disarm to knock the keg from his or her hands, the previously-mentioned Dive Roll, Charge to rush at your opponent and kick them, and Stomp. Stomp is similar to Pour Ale, so of course I love it. It cracks the ice and knocks your opponents back, sending them flying.
I enjoyed Kegball for a while, but the clock was ticking and it was finally time to move on to something else that day. Hopefully you enjoyed the rundown of Hoelbrak, Hunter’s Hearth, Stonewright’s Steading, and Kegball. Check out the screenshot album, and feel free to ask any questions about things I may have missed!