Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Past Is A Different Country: GW2

Ravious has a very positive post up about the latest Living Story installment, Seeds of Nightmare. I'm not quite as impressed as all that but I liked it too. Well, what there was of it.

Adrian observed in the comments yesterday " It was shorter than the last one and not a whole lot happens." That about does it. I would guess there's maybe 10-15 minutes of dialog and cut scenes. There is a lot of really quite intriguing back-story and lore but the main storyline comes to a dead stop.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that after completing the entire episode I have no more idea why Caithe took Glint's egg, where she went with it or what she might be about to do next than I had two weeks ago, when she ran off with the dam' thing in the first place. I do, however, know a lot more than I did about the Sylvari in general and several of that race's featured players in particular. If I was asked to sum up what I now know I think something along the lines of "they're a race of sociopaths" would probably cover it.

Take my word for it - you don't want to. Not this lot.

Of course, that description fits the Asura pretty tightly too. It's hard to say which sequence in the current chapter is the more unpleasant - the Inquest and their vivisection lab for sentient races or the Sylvari runaway-slave-recovery/ethnic cleansing squad. Either would sit a lot more happily against the relentless grimdark of The Secret World than the watercolor wash and neon rainbow backdrop of Tyria.

Safe to say there aren't a lot of laughs in this episode. The only one of either Destiny's Edge or the Biconics to make an appearance is Marjory and she's never a barrel of laughs at the best of times. Even less so now she's carrying her dead sister in the form of a six-foot sword and brooding on fantasies of revenge.

She and your character visit The Pale Tree, who is not best pleased when she learns you let Caithe get away with the egg. She's positively snappy in fact. She reminded me of a mother who just found out her son "forgot" to deliver a note from school. I never trusted her anyway and not one thing I have heard her say thus far gives me any reason to change my mind.

Pwincess! Come back from the edge!
After that it's the usual traipsing about to find this or that location, before entering an instance, where you have some fights. The McGuffin this time around is a handful of Memory Seeds that let you relive significant events in Caithe's past, the idea being that you might thereby get some handle on her future, viz and to wit where she went with the egg. Well I can't say that worked for me. Don't have a clue.

The traveling is done as yourself with Marjory tagging along. There's a nice new widget that uses a "...warm, warmer, now you're getting cold..." routine to locate the exact spot and then it's into Caithe's memories you go. Marjory stays outside, presumably guarding your inert body, while you get to spin and leap about in the form of Caithe.

Caithe is a thief. I have a level 80 Thief but I rarely play her. Leveling up I pretty much used the bow and spammed Heartseeker and that was it. Shadow Refuge if that didn't work. Whether Caithe's skills bear any resemblance to a player-thief's I can't say, partly out of ignorance and partly because I didn't bother to examine them. I followed the tried and tested method of spamming everything all the time whenever it wasn't on cooldown, dodge included.

Look, I've told you once. You'll be going in the bag if this carries on.

This had me throwing myself around like Batroc ze Leaper on amphetamines but it seemed to get the job done. I died once, thereby discovering Caithe has no downed state and the health of her enemies resets so I made sure not to die again, which wasn't difficult. Normally I'd say I'd rather play my own character but frankly anything that gets these obligatory fight sequences over faster is worth a try.

There's a bug in the Inquest Lab section where Caithe can get stuck in perma-stealth, meaning she can't fight or interact with objects - game over, start the instance again in other words. That happened to me but luckily Faolain was already in combat so I just sat back and watched while she cleared the room. She's unkillable but she has the DPS of an elderly armadillo so it took a while.

Oh yes, Faolain. Wherever you go in Caithe's head Faolain is sure to be there. She's Caithe's quondam lover and current leader of The Nightmare Court, a bunch of bona fide, full-on psychopaths who broke away from The Pale Tree a couple of decades ago so they could be free to act like emo teenagers. And kill people. Most of this chapter is effectively their origin story.

Canach shows his softer side. I think he's over that now.

It's also Canach's origin story and Trahearne's origin story. It's like a Secret Origins Annual! They come out of things about the opposite of what I'd have guessed. Trahearne acts like a stubborn, bigoted ass while Canach is empathic and sympathetic. I wondered if someone swapped a Post-It on someone else's desk back in the writers' room. Can't deny I found it intriguing though.

On it goes like that. Lore, backstory, characterization, no plot progression. Having riled up The Fans throughout Season One by seemingly turning their faces against anything that happened in Tyria prior to 2012 Earth Time, the writers appear to have done a one-eighty and decided the past is where it's at. Or The Fans are where the money comes from and long-term future of the game, if it's going to have one, has to be curated to their satisfaction. Both, probably.

I played a bit of Guild Wars. Origins around launch, Eye of The North and Origins again much later, when I was warming up for GW2. A smattering of the rest - I own all the expansions. I am no kind of GW lore buff though. About all I know of Abaddon or The White Mantle are the names. Consequently I am beginning to feel slightly at sea. I have to wonder how appealing this stuff is to the GW2 players who only know GW2.

Pwincess! Pwincess! I'm sorry I yelled at you. Oh, where did she go?

I imagine that's the demographic that wasn't quite so gosh-wow over the books in the Durmand Priory Library; the players who'd quite like the story to be more about the big dragon we're fighting now and less about things that happened twenty years ago. There are rumblings of dissatisfaction on the forum to this effect although that proves nothing. Rumblings of dissatisfaction is the forum.

It'll all lead somewhere. Most probably to an expansion in the Spring or early Summer. All will no doubt be forgiven and forgotten then. Meanwhile we'll take our story in drip-feed form and like it. It's not like we have a choice.

What's more, the story formed only the most minor part of this update. There was a big revamp of the PvP game, a small addition to the overland map and a humungous new jumping puzzle. To no-one's surprise more than my own it's the jumping puzzle that looks like being the highlight. It may well be getting its own post here, when I have time to explore it further. I spent a very enjoyable hour there today, mostly taking screenshots of my Charr Ranger in heroic poses (see above).

Charr ranger is categorically the worst class/race combo for jumping puzzles so next time I'll be taking an Asura. That'll mean a lot of screenshots looking up. As for that story about a big year for that I guess. Hope he's the patient type of dragon.


  1. Link note: The "Come back from the edge!" graphic is pulling from a different folder so it won't open in a separate browser tab -- for full size view, of course (!). Instead, it can only be opened in a separate graphics viewer app.

    On that note... looks like you're having more fun playing with Pwincess than running Living Story. Your reports have relieved me of what little concern I've had about missing out on it by not having it in me to take the time on the chapters (since the worldwide marionettes business, anyway). It's enough to get fixes in the stagnant chaos that is WvW.

    Also, I basically hate jumping puzzles, having had learned that primarily from completing over a dozen of the damn things Charr. The explorer part of my gaming drove me, as it likewise bothers me to the L.S. zones but... No, Plenty of amusement last night seeing a player's Charr stuck on the outside of a Hills rail.

    "I'm a bat!"

    "Yup. Love that Charr geometry."

    I'll get my vicarious thrills regarding the giant new jumping puzzle from you and, maybe, Wooden Potatoes. Otherwise, it's back to the Tranquil Sea for me.

    -- 7rlsy

    *(Keep it up, Yaks, maybe we'll see each other in the next tournament.)

    1. Oh, thanks for pointing that out. I never click through the pictures to check that sort of thing. Fixed now.

      I like jumping puzzles up to a point. If they're mostly "real" geography and the jumping is just an extreme form of the clambering and climbing I do all the time then I really enjoy them. I drop out when they start to include artificial features that turn them into platform games. I never liked those.

      This one, at least as far as I've been so far, is very much the former.

  2. Why is ranger any worse than any charr class?

    1. Maybe it's your pet peeking at you over the edge you just fell off, rubbing it in?

      Or the fact your pet just thudded down beside you too?

      (Not that I really have a clue. Rhinocharr does jumps in spiky armor while glowing blue periodically and shouting at others to retreat!)

    2. It's the pet. Firstly it frequently blocks line of sight to something you need to see. You can stow it but it reappears if you take any damage including falling damage, which tends to happen frequently when I do jumping puzzles. Secondly, if there are mobs, which there didn't appear to be in this one but which there often are, you can count on the blasted pet to start fighting one just when you run up to jump. Again, you can put the pet on passive but that's just another thing to remember.

      None of it is unmanageable but it certainly doesn't add anything positive to the experience.

  3. I got a shoutout! Ha!

    I agree with your take on the living story. While I am intrigued by the sylvari origin story, the dark material being explored is decidedly jarring with both the bright palette and design aesthetic of gw2. I am really not the least bit interested in the sociopathic side of the Asura or the Sylvari. If I wanted this sort of nuance from a game, I would not be playing sunshine and carnival costume GW2 as it hardly takes itself seriously in almost every other area. We will see where they are going with this but I am not optimistic.
    This may sound harsh but of all the MMOs I have played (WoW, GW2, ESO, FFXIV ARR, SWTOR, TSW and Wildstar) GW2 is at or near the bottom when it comes to story quality (only Wildstar can give it a run for its money on worst storyline ever). One of my main issues with GW2 is that Arenanet seem to want to have some sort of deep and engaging story but how they think that works alongside the "everything but the kitchen sink" costume and design aesthetic of GW2 is beyond me. I simply cannot take the story of random sylvari experimentation and concerns about defining who you are while my guildie is wearing dragon wings coupled with some fairy flower and what looks like a costume for Hooker Day. GW2 is one of the best MMOs in the post WoW era but not because of its story telling qualities in my opinion.

    Then again, I just logged in on a whim as FFXIV is now my main game. Lalafell for the win!

    1. Elbows Up! (for the Lalafell run!)

      Agreed, agreed, agreed. It gets down to this: consistency in a fictional world. Does it haz it or does it nots? In theatre, an inconsistency that effectively upstages and distracts from the rest of the world the audience is allowing to exist because of that suspended disbelief thing can, as the biz term goes, "take the audience out of the show". I imagine there are similar discriptions for movies, TV, and written fiction.

      You've described it for GW2. Asura meant to be taken that seriously? Rubbish. Oh, sure, I like crazy costumes and so on but it has to fit. The silliness inherent in Tyria for our benefit (think Warner Bros cartoons) has been highly crafted by Arenanet and is pretty darn consistent. For them to try to veer off from it that hard must be taking some players -- you two are indicative -- out of the show. Asura on alert! Ears up!

      -- 7rlsy

    2. Mostly I find the whole approach muddled. GW1 was really quite dark in tone most of the time, at least in the parts I remember. The arrival of the Charr and the Searing near the beginning of Origins remains one of the most surprising and disturbing intentional changes of pace and mood I have seen in an MMO and from then on it's all rather bleak.

      GW2 has the same degree of darkness throughout the backstory - the Charr/Human barely ended and far from forgotten, the dragons, Orr and so on but none of that has ever really impinged on the bright, colorful, cheerful, almost carnival tone of the foreground. It was always hard to reconcile snowball fights, paper streamers in the air, Meatoberfest, putting on cow costumes to train cows, the Jackalope, golems spreading malicious gossip and all the myriad other examples with the supposedly desperate situation.

      The current direction goes a stage beyond that, though, I feel and it risks undermining the contract between player and character. Of the five playable races we currently have the deeply suspect Sylvari, the deeply suspect Asura, the totalitarian and militaristic Charr, the arrogant, irresponsible and narcissistic Norn and the browbeaten, fading humans. It's getting hard to justify playing any of them in an upbeat, light-hearted, humorous fashion without accepting that to do so is to play out of character.

      That happens in many MMOs on and off but at the moment it feels particularly noticeable in this one.

    3. Yes I suppose the darkness is apt when you put it that way. Plus I never played GW1. Having said that, a dark storyline should have some sort of thread of hope and/or redemption running through it. Otherwise you run the risk of your races becoming unlikeable.

  4. Tastes differ, obviously. I am one of the GW2-only-crowd (or was until about 2 months ago). I started my guild wars experience with GW2, having ignored GW1 before. I liked season 1 ok but season 2 is really great in my opinion. I bought GW1 now and am in the process to play it through with my daughter, so that I can experience the lore brought with GW2 better.

    1. That's a really interesting perspective. I wonder if coming to GW2 with a vague memory of GW1 lore but no real depth of understanding is the worst of both worlds? I know just enough to know I 'm missing a lot but don't have the desire (or the time) to go back and play through the parts of GW1 I missed (which was most of it, really).

      On the other hand, I have vivid and meaningful memories of the early parts of the Origins campaign that were enough in themselves to guide my choice of server to Yaks Bend. Some of my strongest and most emotionally resonant MMO experiences come from my fisrt run through that campaign.

      To be honest I think some of my dissatisfaction comes from the plain fact that we're heading south into Maguuma not North into the Shiverpeaks.


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