Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Skip To The Good Part : GW2

Sometime today the latest installment of Guild Wars 2's Living Story will hit the megaservers. I'm a little vague as to what chapter we're on but I know there's a trailer on YouTube. It's very short and choppy and when I watched it on a Tablet at work a few days ago it made me feel momentarily depressed because I knew I'd have to play through the unedited version eventually.

The first Living Story "Season" was muddled, chaotic and frequently infuriating. It had highs and lows and plenty of plateau states to bridge them. For all its flaws and shortcomings, however, I saw every single episode to its conclusion on both of my accounts. I never felt I wanted to skip one.

ArenaNet fielded a lot of criticism over LS1 and clearly it was criticism they took to heart. The second arc has been much, much tighter; more focused, more purposive, more targeted than the first. The writers have made a heroic effort to reconnect their rambling narrative with the lore established in the first Guild Wars. They have re-introduced important players from the past of both games: Destiny's Edge, Trahearne, Canach, The Pact.

In another popular move a significant amount of new virtual real estate has been added, first with the Dry Top map and then the adjoining Silverwastes. The achievement structure has been re-tooled to appeal to actual Achievers. All of the content has been allocated as much permanency as any content in an MMO can ever expect to enjoy.

All of this and more has been managed and yet the result, for me, is an increasing loss of interest. When each new chapter drops I dutifully follow the markers, talk to the NPCs, watch the cut scenes, grind through the fights, collect my rewards and that's it. It's all done in one evening. It takes maybe a couple of hours.

Turn round real slow Pwincess...I think it's really them!

After doing the story instances on one account I lose any interest in repeating them on the other. I just open my mail to flag the account in case I might one day want to come back to it; something that looks increasingly unlikely.

The open world maps fare a little better. When Dry Top was new I returned to it a number of times over several weeks. Silverwastes, however, has only seen my characters on the first couple of days and once later on when I had a new build I wanted to test. Other than for the rewards there really seems no reason to go back and the rewards don't do much for me.

The fundamental problem with LS2 from my perspective is how very formulaic it has become, and in so short a time, too. The first season was a hotch-potch. An awful lot of it didn't make much sense. Some of the writing was really quite poor. What it never was, however, was predictable.

We lived through a refugee crisis, saw huge, zone-wide attacks across multiple maps, explored new dungeons, met a whole raft of new characters, reveled in the best event ever added to the game (Marionette), took part in an election, even played a cameo role in a film noir pastiche. Mysterious artifacts appeared, entirely unannounced, all across Tyria and The Mists. A major city was turned into a battleground for weeks on end.

How d'you expect me to keep up with all this dragon stuff?
I've been here two years and I only just found my own kitchen last week.

LS1 was an attempt at a distributed narrative. Not always a successful attempt, that's undeniable, and it was certainly an attempt whose ambition was rarely recognized at the time. In retrospect, however, and particularly with the second season for comparison, I feel a little sorry I didn't appreciate it more. Although I did give it a B- which is a passing grade.

Let's not get too revisionist here. LS1 was no great work of art. Neither was it revolutionary or even particularly original in its approach. Plenty of MMOs have attempted distributed or accretive narratives before GW2 and some of them have made a better fist of it. Probably most of them. Still, it was more interesting and certainly more daring than what has replaced it.

The current Season appears to have condensed into a format as rigid as a crossword puzzle. For the main narrative, each week we speak to some NPCs, go to an instance, fight a mini-boss, speak to some more NPCs, go to another instance, fight a boss. Then it ends.

Some of the instances are spectacular it's true. Some of the boss fights have interesting mechanics (not interesting to me - I'd prefer a "Skip Fight" button - but they amuse some people). Regardless of the quality, however, the whole thing feels increasingly formulaic. It's all very well MMOs using repetitive structures - indeed it's intrinsic to the form - but when the player begins to notice the repetition that indicates a problem.

There has to be a better way...

The new, permanent open world content is much the same. Dry Top and Silverwastes have no real "feel" as parts of Tyria. They look and play like instanced battlegrounds not open world maps. It's as though all the effort that was expended throughout the original game to try and conceal the repetitive nature of the ironically-named "Dynamic Events" has finally been deemed a waste of development time. Instead of events triggering each other in cascading chains that branch according to outcome we get a series of set pieces on an unvarying timer.

It's a bit dull. I think that's what I'm saying. And it requires more effort than I feel it deserves. I'm not bored with the Living Story as such. I still want to know what happens next. I'm just not sure I can be bothered to trudge through the hoops to find out. I might just watch the highlights on YouTube. Someone's sure to post the cut scenes.

I'm not bored with GW2 itself either. I'm still exploring the world. There's a lot I haven't seen yet and a lot of what I have seen I've forgotten. I'll happily go round again. There are plenty of places in Tyria where it's fun just to spend time and be. Sadly, neither of the new maps is one of those places.

Twenty omegas to take a tower. Can we say "Overkill"?

As for WvW, since Yak's Bend graduated to Tier 2 after the last Tourney every match has been exciting, especially across the weekends. We have a bunch of great commanders and there's nearly always something going on. The fighting is more intense, there's more of it and it happens more often. The results are not always easy to predict.

Mrs Bhagpuss suggested a new build so I tried it and then tweaked it to an extreme. It's working very well for me. It certainly makes a change, not dying every second fight, although there's a question over whether I could solo a sentry let alone a camp. Still, I'm hell on wheels when it comes to holding a ring.

WvW somehow manages to be both repetitive and unpredictable at the same time. That's very much what I look to an MMO to provide. The open world of Tyria offers a wonderful environment to explore and relax in, which is also very much something I come to MMOs to experience. I'm not quite sure what value the current iteration of Living Story adds.

Today's LS update will be the last before Wintersday. That's good. I've about had enough of it already, short though the recent run has been, and I'm really looking forward to Wintersday this year. I didn't pay it much attention last go round, a oversight I intend to correct.

Get your airship warmed up, Tixx! My bank's full of stuffing and there are minis to be made. Saving the world from dragons? That can wait 'til next year.

8 comments:

  1. I totally know how you feel on this. I'm just not feeling any exciting urge to play the newest LS episodes at all. I log in to make sure I get them for free, but haven't even played the one from two weeks ago yet.

    I also agree on the annoying mechanics-boss-fights in every episode. It feels like they just toss it in there to make the episode longer, as it's usually the part that takes me the longest to complete.

    I didn't much care for the story of season 1, but you're right. It was far more varied than Season 2. I dunno... it's going to take a good bit for GW2 to recapture my interest at this point. Which makes me sad because I played it non-stop for months at release, before the whole Living Story thing started.

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    1. It really is the fights that are getting on my nerves. I know it's a video game and combat is an intrinsic part of those but I just think fights and storytelling have next to nothing in common. I spent about four hours today doing the main timeline in EQ2's current expansion. That has a decent if unoriginal plot and to progress you have to do a lot of fighting but at no point does it turn into a "win/lose" thing.

      I get that there needs to be combat to stretch the process out to take up more time and I get that video games of this nature have combat as a given but I strongly feel that when it comes to narrative the combat should stand to story as distance stands to travel: you put in the time and you get where you're going. It should not be a test of skill or competence - that is for another part of the game entirely.

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  2. I would skip this instalment as well. It was shorter than the last one and not a whole lot happens. The mechanics are also some of the worst I have seen from them. You are locked into Caithe's class for the entire thing.

    What on earth are all those Anet employees doing? Hopefully it is the expansion. I would rather they just Blizzard us (nothing until the expansion) save for holiday events and WvW tourneys. Its getting too embarrassing now.

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    1. I'm tabbed out from it now. Stuck at Picaroon Scratch in Silverwastes. Thus far this episode the story itself has been very interesting but would quite literally work better as a short video or a lore story on the website.

      As for the action so far, the stealth parts were simple and relatively enjoyable but the fights were mindless. I just spammed every skill and eventually stuff died. At one point I was left in stealth and Faolin was exposed and I just sat back and watched for about five minutes as she slowly wore all the Inquest down. She is unkillable.

      One thing I would say, it's changed my opinion of both Faolin and Vorpp, and Sylvari and Asura in general. In my opinion we could do with a lot less of this "dark" stuff. Not my cup of tea at all.

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    2. Ye gods! It IS short. This is getting ridiculous.

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    3. It was over so fast, it took me a few seconds to register. I actually almost ported to the Durmand Priory to meet Marjory and then I saw the story was over. Anet seems to be struggling to fit things in their must b e combat with story box. Like you said, a cut scene with some flashbacks would have been enough.

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    4. I spent more time in the jumping puzzle last night than the story, and only got about halfway through the JP. You might find this one a little more Explorer-friendly than most: there are a lot of places where you can wander off the One True Path to get an interesting view. (There's also a checkpoint system so you don't have to redo the entire thing every time you die, and no time limits as far as I've seen.)

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    5. Indeed! Mrs Bhagpuss, who loathes jumping puzzles, wandered in there by mistake and was surprisingly positive about it so I went and had a look. I was in there for about an hour and had a lot of fun. It seemed more like a huge explorable zone with some climbing than a jumping puzzle.

      I ended up going round in a huge circle and coming back to where I started so I didn't make much progress on the flags but I will definitely be going back for another poke around.

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