Once, twice, three times a lady. Or maybe not. Back in the magical soft-focus world of Guild Wars for the third time, I'm faced with a difficult decision. Shall I be Steve Hill or shall I be Fanny Batter? Through some kind of digital suspended animation, my two previous characters are waiting patiently for me. Young Fanny Batter, the Sapphic temptress, is the obvious option, but I'm in for the long haul this time and the prospect of being bothered by bearded men for the foreseeable future is less than appealing.
Steve Hill it is then, a noble ranger with flowing locks and an inexplicable face mask. Besides, by using my own name there's a slim chance that a regular reader might recognise me and give me money or cake. In fact, everyone should use their real names - forget this roleplaying lark, it could be like some kind of Trolls Reunited service. You could discover that the fat kid at school is now eking out a living selling dye to clothmakers, or that the girl you fancied is part of a guild of mythical warriors.
Either way, it seems they have been expecting me. No sooner have I stepped back into the breach than Sir Tydus is hailing me. "I've been looking for you everywhere, Steve Hill," he lies, before inviting me to visit Lakeside (sadly not the darts venue), where Artemis The Ranger awaits. According to Tydus: "She can show you a trick or two." This is a tempting enough offer on a good day, let alone after being locked up with a lesbian for six months, and I instantly agree.
Such is my haste that I forget to ask where Lakeside is (not Essex). Stumbling aimlessly around the lush countryside, I encounter a small girl called Gwen, who pleads: "I left my flute by the river, but there are lots of scary monsters there now."
What am I, a charity? I'm about to tell her where to get off when I spot Artemis The Ranger stood directly behind her. Swiftly agreeing to get Gwen's godforsaken flute, I stroll over to the buxom Artemis and eagerly introduce myself. As helpful as she is beautiful, she shows me how to use a bow and arrow, explaining enigmatically: "Yes, it's good to be a ranger."
Using my new-found skills to dispatch the monsters and retrieve Gwen's flute, I'm considerably less than pleased to discover that it's broken. Testing my patience, she then hints: "My daddy was an adventurer like you. Once, he let me go on an adventure with him." OK, OK, just don't call me daddy..."
Randomly slaughtering the wildlife, it seems this green and pleasant land is rich in every sense. Club a giant lobster to death with a lump-hammer and it gives up four gold coins. One even drops a sword, which I use to joylessly butcher an oversized chicken. I'm pretty handy with my weapons, but stupidly I get talking to a ruthless charlatan who convinces me to swap my fighting skills for an array of spurious spells. She might as well have sold me some magic beans, and the ineffectiveness of my nascent wizardry is driven home when I take on a wild bull and am brutally gored.
Opting for a less physical task, I agree to help a guard find his missing friend. This requires one person to hold a lever while the other goes through a gate. Thinking I finally have a use for the kid, I order her to hold it, but with my temples throbbing with rage, she roundly ignores me and continues to skip around like a child.
Abandoning her in favour of adult company, I get talking to a woman who's effectively a matchmaker, offering me a reward in return for finding a mate. Heading for the busier part of town, it's like a speed dating service, and I somehow convince the leather-clad Punkeymunkey to join me. She even invites me to help her search for the Moa Bird, which as first dates go is certainly more original than the local multiplex.
We look great together, but as ever there's a catch, in that she's followed every step of the way by a filthy stinking pet. Not quite as bad as the perennial yappy dog, it appears to be some kind of big cat, and I feign interest by asking its name. "Melandru," replies Punkeymunkey, but she can already tell that I hate it.
We never do find the Moa Bird, and she takes me to a dingy place called The Catacombs. "Do you want to try another quest?" she moodily asks, but I'm not listening. By the time I reply, she's gone and I'm left alone in the dark, physically and metaphorically. Ranger, good sense of humour, seeks similar for adventure.