Tessa felt a jolt run through her as the world flashed white. Or maybe it was just the screen. She sat back and rubbed her eyes. Reading the new tutorial instructions had taken longer than she’d expected and according to the in-game clock, which had to be lying, it was a quarter to midnight already. That was nowhere near as late as she had stayed up playing Broken Horizons as a kid but also much later than she was used to hitting the sack as an adult.
On the screen, the white flash cleared to reveal Pillowcase glowing with a rapidly fading silver radiance. She was a [Soul Knight] at last, and new, yet oh so familiar, interface elements appeared to show the abilities she’d received for completing the first part of the tutorial.
Outside, a storm had blown in with the occasional flashes of distant lightning strobing through her closed curtains. As ambiance went, she couldn’t complain. The tempest matched the change in the atmosphere in Sky’s Edge where Pillowcase was standing.
“Looks like you’re not alone,” Mister Pendant said, gesturing to the fountain in Sky’s Edge’s central square.
The flash of light had covered not only the addition of the new user interface elements to the screen but also the transition from the solo instance of Sky’s Edge, where Pillowcase had started out, to the open world version when players could interact with each other.
Around the fountain, a thick sea of other players were congregated. Most were standing motionless, their players either away from the keyboard or chatting with each other via Discord or in-game /tells.
Tessa moved Pillowcase to join them, guessing that the next quest giver was probably somewhere at the center of the pack somewhere. She stopped when Mogwin landed on Pillowcase’s shoulder though, curious if the game was going to hand out another quest automatically to her.
“You’re going to want to get ready. Nasty things are coming,” Mogwin warned. The voice actor for Mogwin wasn’t familiar to Tessa, which was nice. She loved the voices from the old version of the game, especially Niminey’s, but a few of them got used for far more parts than they really should have.
It was one thing to hear a shopkeeper advertising their wares in a rich, smooth baritone. It was another to hear that same voice coming from three different farmers, the mayor, and the local horse thief. Eventually the world started to feel a bit unintentionally creepy when half the population all spoke in the exact same voice.
No dialog options came up in reply to Mogwin’s warning, and he didn’t gain any marker to indicate that he had a quest ready, so Tessa marched Pillowcase forward, passing through the crowd like they were ghosts. The lack of collision detection between player avatars was something that had generated a lot of debate early on, since it wasn’t particularly immersive to be able to move through other people like they weren’t there, but the gain in convenience and the elimination of an avenue for players to grief one another put the debate to rest. Eventually.
“Wrathwings!” a town cryer shouted. He was deep in the crush of adventurers but didn’t seem to be paying attention to the horde of people around him. Because he wasn’t. He had a couple of lines of dialog, a trigger for when he said them, and that was all the processing power he needed.
His message was enough to be interesting though even if his personality was basically non-existent. Tessa had been wondering if she’d get to see a Wrathwing attack. They were a new element that was being added with the World Shift expansion and she’d read a lot about them. That they were appearing so early in the game was an unexpected treat too. She’d thought they were limited only to the higher level zones, since they presented some new and unique challenges.
Originally, Broken Horizons had only static enemies. They would patrol around predetermined areas or just stand in place waiting for an adventuring to get close. Eventually the developers expanded on that to include “event style” enemies who would spawn in at intervals or in response to other quests being completed. Those made the world seem somewhat more alive and responsive.
The Wrathwing Attacks were the next step in that process. Not only did they occur by their own pattern and with variable levels of intensity, they represented a real threat to areas they attacked. From what the beta-testers had reported, Wrathwings and the other “Dynamic Assaults” could do lasting damage to the towns and other player-friendly areas in the High Beyond.
If the Wrathwing’s killed the town Blacksmith for example, the blacksmith’s shop would be out of commission until the players repaired the shop and someone did the quest to recruit a new blacksmith for the town.
What was more exciting though was that the Wrathwing Dynamic Assaults could carry away more than just the non-player character [Villagers]. Any adventurers who didn’t put up enough of a fight to escape the Wrathwing talons would be dragged into the air and carried off to a new, and far more dangerous zone.
Tessa looked around, checking the skies to see if the event was starting but aside from some clouds that were rolling in, there wasn’t any sign of approaching giant birds. Looking around on the ground, about half the other players seemed to be “in the know” on what the town cryer’s “Wrathwings” warning might mean.
Some of them were scurrying inside the sturdier buildings, probably intending to wait out the event rather than struggle through what could be a tough fight with barely any skills or spells.
Others were taking the exact opposite approach, trying to form impromptu teams to meet the Wrathwings head on.
> BattlerX shouted: “Forming Event team. Looking for 6 members. Send tell for invite.”
Tessa considered replying, but hesitated. With six slots open on the potentially eight person team, BattlerX didn’t have much of a party assembled yet. Tactically speaking it would be better to join a full, or nearly full team since the more people they had, the more kills they’d get in the coming battle and the more overall rewards they’d earn.
Tessa’s hesitation wasn’t founded on tactical considerations though. Even the thought of teaming up filled her with dread. There was so much potential for drama and stress and headaches on a random group, and none of that was what she was looking for when she came back.
Plus, she was just a baby Tank. She didn’t have a hundredth of the toughness she’d eventually be able to offer a team. It felt far better to risk trying to solo the event and then spend some time working out how her new class played rather than to try to team up too soon. The last thing she wanted was to get soured on the whole experience because a teammate decided to be an idiot, especially since the people playing at this point were either pretty hardcore, or as tired as she was, or both.
“Wrathwings! They’re coming!” the town cryer called out again.
> Kami Anne Do shouted: “Where are the Wrathwings? Is the event bugged?”
Tessa was willing to give decent odds that was the case, given the larger shutdown problem the game was having. It had clearly been rushed out to meet a deadline. Even so though, she knew there’d be plenty of other things to work. Simply exploring the new areas could lead to rich and rewarding surprises, and there were likely at least a few quests that weren’t horribly broken. If nothing else presented itself, she could even just mindlessly kill off enemies, providing she could find anything to fight.
“The Wrathwings are almost here,” Mogwin said. “If you look up you can see them.”
Tessa blinked. It almost seemed like Mogwin was responding to Kami Anne’s shout but it was more likely to just be fortuitous timing. Scanning the global chat channels for text cues was certainly possible but the processing required was far beyond any value that could have been derived from it.
Tessa panned the camera up again, searching the otherworldly sky for any sign of giant bird monsters but all she saw was the storm cloud which had almost reached the town.
The storm cloud which was breaking up into smaller, faster moving pieces.
Tessa blinked again.
That wasn’t a storm cloud.
It was a nearly solid wall of things out of a nightmare.
On a technical level, Tessa had to admit that the effort put into the Wrathwing design was impressive. Their models moved in the distinctly unnatural manner which suggested bones were breaking with every flap their wings took. Also they had human heads which were rotating in all directions, and their talons were a disturbing mix of human hands with long, curving metal blades jutting from the palm.
They didn’t scream or cry out as they approached, just moved in an eerie silence as all of the other game noises were muted out as well.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Tessa said to her empty apartment. “How the hell are a bunch of level 1s supposed to fight that?”
She had Pillowcase draw her [Rusty Knight’s Blade] anyways since it was better to go down fighting that to try to flee the town given the speed the Wrathwings were traveling at.
In the worst case, she hoped she’d be able to kill at least one or two of the Wrathwings and get some kind of armor or weapon reward from it. Given the literal trash level quality of her current equipment any new piece would easily be an upgrade.
> Buzz Fightyear shouted: “Damn, I didn’t know the game could spawn that many enemies! See ya all around the Heart Fire!”
Tessa cast a glance over towards the village’s tiny chapel, the one building that would never be destroyed no matter what force assaulted the town. She hadn’t been inside it, but she knew there would be a silver fire burning in a divinely inscribed brazier at its center. When the adventurers who were waiting to defend Sky’s Edge died – and that was going to be “all of them” and “very soon”, they’d respawn around that [Heart Fire] as [Wandering Souls].
From there they’d have the choice of trying to get back to their bodies and resurrect themselves in a mildly weakened state or reincarnating at the Heart Fire in a more significantly weakened state with some extra equipment damage thrown in on top.
Tessa guessed that most of the new players would opt for staying in the chapel until their weakness wore off but there were sure to be some who’d try to throw themselves back into the fray over and over since damage to worthless starter equipment wasn’t exactly a deterrent.
> BattlerX shouted: “Forming Event team. Looking for 4 members. Send tell for invite.”
Tessa admired Battler’s tenacity if nothing else, but knew he wasn’t going to get an answer in time. Before anyone could have typed a response, the first of the Wrathwings began to flood into the village square.
Pillowcase’s mobility (and Tessa’s old reflexes) saved her from the first telegraphed attack a Wrathwing made at her. Rather than standing in the red cone that appeared, Pillowcase side stepped out of it the instant it appeared, clearing the edge of cone only a half second before the Wrathwing belched out a spray of acidic blood that left the area sizzling and ruined.
Another tried to attack her with its palm blades, but missed as Pillowcase backed out of its range. With years of experience as a healer, she was used to keeping away from enemies who were rampaging at her until someone from her team could come deal with them.
Tessa wove Pillowcase around several piles of boxes and fence sections to confuse the Wrathwing’s pursuit tracking system before hiding in the shadow of a building’s porch pole for a moment to take stock of what was happening..
With a moment to breath, several things occurred to her as she scanned the battlefield. First, she had no team, so no one was going to take care of the Wrathwings who were still searching for her.
Second, even if she did have a team, it probably wouldn’t have helped because the low level adventurers were being completely overwhelmed by their attackers. As she watched, several adventurers were lifted above the fray, caught in the claws of the Wrathwings who were fleeing back to their nests already.
The third, and most important thing was that, Pillowcase wasn’t a healer.
She was a tank. The first line of defense. She wasn’t the one who ran from monsters. She was the one who ran to them, so that no one else would be in danger.
Looking over the battlefield again, she saw that the hastily formed teams had been shattered by the onslaught. No one knew how to work together, or at least no one was bothering to try, with characters running around and being picked off one by one no matter where they tried to hide.
The general helplessness wasn’t complete though. One group seemed to have the right idea and had huddled together behind a Metal Mechanoid player, “Buzz Fightyear” from the nameplate over his head, who’d chosen the Guardian class. That team had given up trying to outfight the Wrathwing horde and were making a fighting withdrawal. Tessa wasn’t sure if it was proving to be effective because they had enough firepower to back it up or because there were so many other targets for the Wrathwings to attack instead. In either case, she considered joining them, until she saw someone moving in exactly the same manner she’d just been.
Behind the pale skinned woman, a trio of Wrathwings had formed up and with the village square emptying out there were fewer and fewer places and people the woman could use to distract her pursuers.
Feeling a surge of [Healer] solidarity, Tessa sent the Pillowcase charging out from the shadow she’d been hiding in. The [Soul Knight] rushed across the small square and crashed into the Wrathwings. When her presence alone wasn’t enough to draw their attention away from their quarry, Pillowcase started laying into them with the basic attacks the tutorial had shown her.
That got the Wrathwings attention nice and quick.
The problem was, Tessa had no idea what to do with it.