Tuesday, 28 January 2014

What's She Building In There? : GW2

Like small children, finding ourselves momentarily unwatched while mummy's distracted elsewhere, we've all been tip-toeing around Scarlet's Secret Lair this week, peering at her papers, puzzling at her pictures and rootling through her things. The whole time my necromancer was in there (and she took a good half-hour or more to explore every cluttered corner) I was expecting to hear that familiar taunting voice as Scarlet ported in to catch me in the act of stuffing treasures in my pack.

Sadly that didn't happen. Even though Scarlet only opens her puppet show every couple of hours she must have other important things to do outside the house for the rest of the day because once you find your way into the rather uncomfortable pied à terre she maintains below the Durmand Priory you're free to stay as long as you like without fear of interruption. It's just as well. There's a lot to take in as well as a lot to take away.


Since the discovery of the lair speculation has been running wild. There's a lengthy thread on the forums filled with ideas about where this runaway train of a storyline might be headed. Favorite theories include

  • Scarlet is working to end the Elder Dragon threat
  • Scarlet is trying to take an Elder Dragon's power for herself
  • Scarlet is luring the Elder Dragons to Lion's Arch where they will have a massive fight, destroy the city and each other, leaving her in complete and undisputed power
  • Scarlet is controlled by and/or working for one of the Elder Dragons
  • Scarlet is being run by some non-draconic power (Abaddon, The Mursaat, Dhuum) for purposes unclear
  • Scarlet is going to kill The Pale Tree
Dragon theories seem to be in the ascendant, even though ANet's Martin Kerstein stated right at the beginning, when they unveiled the Living Story process, that "There will be no mounts, no Cantha and no dragons coming with this story arc." Ah, but wait! In context what he was quashing was speculation that the Living Story would see a new dragon event added, along the lines of the three that have been in the game since launch, not that dragons had no place in the storyline at all.


If no-one ever said the inaugural Living Story season wouldn't have draconic influences or repercussions, then there could be a dragon in there somewhere. Sentiment seems to be running towards either the Jungle Dragon, unofficially named as Mordremoth, or Primordus, the earth/fire dragon currently being held at bay by the entire dwarven race somewhere in the bowels of Tyria.

One commenter came up with a very convincing and coherent outline that not only speculates on the final outcome but gives solid commercial and gameplay reasons why ANet might have chosen to go that way. I'd really like it to be true but I fear it would be a step too far. It's Zayd Akira, half-way down the second page. He writes with a freestyling disregard for conventional spelling, punctuation or indeed paragraph breaks but don't let that put you off; there's nothing lacking in the clarity of his thought or logic. The way Zayd nails exactly the issues with the Personal Story that are acting as a drag anchor on all future development and extrapolates clean and clear ways those outmoded ties could be cost-effectively removed and remodelled suggests to me that someone at ANet should be reading his resumé right now, although if so I hope he didn't type it up himself.


Whatever the outcome, everyone seems to agree it has to be something big. ArenaNet are hyping expectation with their claim that the final resolution of the storyline will "change the face of Tyria forever". My own pick of the theories, that Scarlet will launch a successful and fatal assault on The Pale Tree (alright, it's more of a hope than a belief) has already been deemed insufficiently climactic by some.

There's a real Catch-22 going on for the developers here and it's hard to see how they're going to resolve it. Experience by now must have taught them that no matter how GW2 players may say they want real, meaningful changes in the world an awful lot of them react extremely negatively when they get them. On the other hand, if the resolution of a year-long, frequently unpopular and unwelcome storyline turns out to be some weapon skins, a few achievements and the death of an NPC no-one liked anyway the forums will resound with howls for heads to roll. Again.

Speaking of deaths, there's got to be at least one, hasn't there? To give the whole story arc some impact, some gravitas, someone has to not make it through to the end. It might be Scarlet herself, but that would be a waste in so many ways. Sure, she's really hated by a lot of the playerbase and for all the wrong reasons: not because of her evil (or are they?) in-game actions but because she's been seen for a long time as a derivative, amateurish, poorly-written Mary Sue. At long last, though, there are signs that people are slowly beginning to come around to her.


On the forums and in-game there are more and more people prepared to admit to at least some grudging recognition that Scarlet might have some redeeming features. At the Marionette event I've heard plenty of conversation between players about what she might be up to and the haters and don't-cares are no longer in the ascendancy. People are beginning to be curious. It's taken long enough...

The first year of Living Story has been a very rocky road and a very steep learning curve, like driving a lorry full of explosives around hairpin bends on a mountain pass. Alright, not so much like that as like sitting in your office while people are mean about your work on the internet and you wonder if you'll keep your job, but I'm sure it's been the developer's equivalent of a white-knuckle ride.

Having weathered the storm of disapproval, Scarlet is surely too useful now to discard in one final, supposedly cathartic act. Certainly she could disappear for a while, a year or two even; defeated, hiding somewhere we can't reach, licking her wounds and plotting anew. Or, and it's the scenario I favor, she could redeem herself, cleanse the madness and take the otherwise untenanted Sylvari spot in Destiny's Edge 2 along with Rox, Braham, Marjory, and Taimi.

If the black spot's not to go to Scarlet then who gets it? Apparently the smart money's on Lady Kasmeer, which would certainly motivate Marjory if nothing else. It's my impression that both Marjory and Kasmeer, as characters, and their rather cleverly developed, carefully coded relationship, have been something of a hit with many players. If ANet learned one thing from the Personal Story it should have been that if you're going to kill off a character it had better be one, like Tybalt, for whom the players have developed some affection and who they'll miss when they're gone. Watch your back, Kas.

Of course this is all sheer imagination. We could go on like this for weeks and that's the fun of it. As far as hard facts go, for all the fancy theories based on confident detective work done in Scarlet's lair we can't even agree whether the wall-screen shows the future or the past. No wonder the devs are "having a good time reading the speculation" to quote Danicia the Community Co-ordinator. I bet they can't eat their donuts for laughing.

Whatever the final outcome, when it's revealed a few weeks down the line I very much doubt we'll get any lore-convincing explanation of where Scarlet's seemingly endless resources came from and I'm still of the opinion that, while there may have been some kind of twelve-month outline from the outset, the individual episodes have been turned out in a much more piece-meal fashion. And yet...

...and yet I can't say I haven't enjoyed it. It's been far too long, far too baggy and there have been far too many longeurs and lassitudes along the way but mostly I haven't been bored and often I have been intrigued.

ANet no longer talk up their iterative design paradigm the way they used to before launch. It's hard to iterate before a live audience as I'm sure they've found. The process served them well enough in development, though, and if we expect GW2 to be around for a decade or more then, as a first iteration, this Living Story may just have served its purpose after all.


6 comments:

  1. Yeah, I'm really quite relieved the Living Story is revving up at last. At least there are a lot more hints as to Scarlet's motivations, and that in turn is finally producing conflict and tension and interest.

    I'm inclined to believe Taimi has the most correct theory. The probes are helping Scarlet look for something.

    The most basic extrapolation from everything else in her lair is that the aetherblades and her other armies will be attacking the Orders and Lion's Arch to keep them occupied, hence why she apparently needed to create all manner of random combinations of armies to take the Lionguard, Vigil, Priory and Order of Whispers on.

    Meanwhile, the big 'ol laser drill powers up and digs up Primordius from wherever he is underground.

    The big question is, is she freeing/re-waking him or trying to -destroy- him?

    It may be that in her madness, she thinks she's training / uniting the players to slay dragons, that the the Vigil, Priority and Whispers are outdated and thus she doesn't care if she wins or loses in her engagements. She just wants the players to get stronger, in a sense.

    Or it could simply be what it seems on the surface, she's possessed and being a gigantic villain about it.

    If you have confidence in the writers and in a story being told long term, they may even think they can twist Scarlet back to goodness as the sympathetic Caera, once whatever madness/possession is gone.

    And I agree with you about there going to be a death. My money's on Kasmeer here too. The most obvious choice since many players seem to adore her and the relationship she has with Marjory.

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    Replies
    1. I think the best part of the whole thing has been the characterization. Sure, most of them are cliches but this is broad-brush heroic fantasy after all - cliches come with the territory. The least-likeable in my opinion is Braham and even he is tolerable. All of the rest I either like or at least find interesting. Or, in the case of Kiel, who we seem to have lost track of, wouldn't trust any further than I could kick her.

      I hope the cast carries over into Season 2. Well, the ones that survive...

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  2. I'm pretty over this Scarlet storyline.

    I'm uber-excited about the next "Season" though. Now that they've had so many iterations of the LS and has made so many improvements to the mechanics of delivery, I'm really excited for the story to come.

    -Ursan

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  3. Well, we know what will be the next update: Scarlet will attack the Edge of Mists, the new wvw zone. It is official, Anet just brought the video and we can see the Aetherblades pirates invading the new wvw zone.

    IMHO, we can think Scarlet is getting all that resources from the Mists for some time now.

    I sincerelly hope next living story bring us a new playable race, that I think will be tengu, because they have some tengu customization made. Well, I can hope, right?

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    1. They seem to have been dropping some not very subtle hints about an expansion recently, after all that time telling us there wasn't going to be one. I'd not expect a new playable race until that drops, but unfortunately I think you may get your wish and it could be Tengu.

      Setting the next episode even partly in The Mists is just asking for trouble. I know there will be plenty of stuff to do in PvE-land but there's a really significant portion of the playerbase that just loathes any and every kind of PvP and I'd count on them making their distaste known very clearly.

      As for Scarlet getting her resources from the Mists that's like saying Wile E. Coyote gets his devices from the Acme Corporation.

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  4. Quick comment regarding where's she getting all her resources. Well, so much seems to be coming out of portals in all her events. There's the asuran infinity ball storyline that deals with an alternate dimension or something. Woodenpotatoes did an interesting and good video on it. So maybe it's not our Tyria things are getting built in. Who knows. I'd hope they have an explanation regarding this.

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