Even now, with the final denouement just around the corner, ANet is playing its hand very close to its chest. The teaser trail tells us next-to-nothing other than that whoever made it probably mains a Charr. The official website announcement is tight-lipped almost to the point of rudeness. Speculation on the official forums has largely run out of steam, the few remaining commenters seeming to agree that everything points to Mordremoth the Jungle Dragon.
One interesting development is that Lion's Arch is now flagged as a Dungeon. I hadn't noticed this until last night, when one of those little pop-ups appeared to let me know I'd completed my monthly requirement for Dungeon Participation. Whether this means anything we shall have to wait and see but it could presage LA's conversion into an open-air dungeon bossed by whatever rabbit Scarlet pulls out of the hat on Tuesday.
I've always liked the concept of open-air dungeons. Everquest had several right from the start with some of them, like The Estate of Unrest and Castle Mistmoore, standing right at the heart of the canon when it comes to dungeoneering. The idea worked very well there and a permanent "dungeon" that's effectively an entire outdoor map arguably plays directly to the strengths of GW2 even more than it did to those of EQ.
|Our Leader: Always With Us In Spirit|
I liked just about everything about it. I liked that it happened every other hour, which seemed exactly the right pace to keep it accessible while allowing plenty of time to do other things. I liked that, when you arrived in Lornar's Pass, you could exercise a degree of choice over just what you wanted to do while still needing to adapt to changing circumstances. You could pick your Lane to get the Warder of your choice, for example, but if the Lane before you failed you'd get theirs again, instead of the one you'd planned for.There were many little wrinkles along those lines that made each attempt feel fresh.
|If Evon Gnashblade was in charge this would all have been recycled by now.|
The mechanics of the fights seemed to me to be excellent. They all took a while to learn but once grasped were within my capabilities provided I concentrated. Above all, though, the reason I enjoyed the Marionette so much and did the event so often was because of the way outcomes were nested.
Having five separate platforms, each of which needed to succeed at each of the five stages for the whole event to succeed, made for elegant and suspenseful gameplay, suspense that was ratcheted up further by some clever and thoughtful management of the information flow. Inside the arena each team of five could see the other four teams; outside in the Lanes no-one could see any of them. As each platform finished the victorious players would cluster at the edges of their platforms, peering across the barriers to follow the progress of the battles still in play, yearning but unable to help.
As the timer ticked down anxious lane-defenders outside would call for progress reports, hoping the news was better than the silence made it seem. Someone always took it upon themselves to commentate or at least relay the current score. Quite often that someone was me.
|If only they'd listened to him!|
Another element of the design that pleased me was the random selection of the teams. Other MMOs that feature automated party-building usually need to take into account the requirements of the game for certain classes to be present in a particular ratio; in GW2, at least in theory, any five players should be able to do group content together regardless of class. Despite that, if you give players control they still veer towards something that looks like a traditional group, asking for particular classes or rejecting others, tuning for even small advantage over particular challenges or opponents.
At the Marionette there was none of that. You got who you got and you got on with it. Oh, the frustration and exhilaration of personal and collective responsibility! How did you perform this time? How did your team perform? How did your Lane perform? Even at the busiest periods how did your Overflow perform? And of course if it all went horribly wrong, as it often did, you could slink off into the snow and come back to try and do better in a couple of hours.
|She's a Necro. She doesn't cut anyone slack.|
The event became a micro-MMO in and of itself, with its own regular participants and leaders, strategies and culture, something it had in common with many of GW2's more reliably-scheduled "dynamic" events. It's an aspect of the game as game, rather than as virtual world, that I very much enjoy and ANet seem slowly to be gaining some insight on where the sweet spots are.
Hard though I may have gone against the current Escape From Lion's Arch event as a contribution to the evolution of Tyria as a virtual world, as content in a game I'm pretty pleased with it. Supposedly it's meant to initiate a larger-scale iteration of the kind of player dynamics we saw with the Marionette. I think it has a few more tunings to go before it develops anything like that level of elegance but it's very much another step in the right direction.
|Did Scarlet actually tell you pirates to secure the Inns first?|
Again the whole thing relies on nested activities and synergies and again the information flow is restricted. A successful attempt to rescue 1200 citizens requires organization but not so much organization that it can't arise organically from the impending sense that success is possible. The presence of a counter ticking up, a timer ticking down and the periodic delivery of a reward at 100, 300, 600 citizens and climbing provide ample information and incentive for players to judge the likelihood or otherwise of the target being met, an assessment that can be subject to sudden and thrilling change as the miasma thickens and what seemed out of reach now draws tantalizingly near.
When Tuesday's update comes we're to be tasked with The Battle For Lion's Arch. Doubtless it's a battle whose outcome has already been decided, but whether that outcome is a city to rebuild or a dungeon to tame I imagine we'll not be done with Lion's Arch for a good long time to come. I'm sanguine either way.
I very much doubt we'll be done with Scarlet Briar for good and all, either and, surprisingly, I'm good with that, too. Now that's something I really didn't expect.