Monday, March 2, 2015

I Remember Dragon Bash: GW2

Maybe it was because I'd just been writing about how much there is to do in GW2 but I've begun to notice just how much has already gone missing during the short life of the game. It was the pictorial record that alerted me.

Over the three years it's been up and running, beta weekends included, I've taken over six and a half thousand screenshots. They pop up randomly as my desktop background, a new one every ten minutes. As we move steadily into the future these begin more and more to resemble glimpses of a lost age.

Living Story Seasons One and Two account for much of the change. I diligently documented their convoluted, fractured progress as I attempted to follow the quasi-linear narrative. One would not, perhaps, expect the chapters of a completed story to remain in play indefinitely but seeing those fragmentary images of the past reminds me strongly just how much happened that can never happen again.

A rift in reality

The changes made to the way Season Two operates, packaging it up into re-playable, purchasable instances, attempts to square that circle with some constricted success but despite the ongoing clamor for something similar to be applied retrospectively to Season One, it's very hard to see how something like Scarlet's Invasions could be replicated for latecomers. Even relatively simple events like the Shiverpeak refugee crisis would only be feasible with the introduction of the kind of phasing technology used in WoW and ESO, something I can't see as either likely or desirable.

Still, one doesn't expect an ongoing storyline, necessarily, to remain persistently available throughout the life of an MMO. Every MMO I've played for long enough to see it happen has had one-off story-driven events that did or didn't change the world. What's more surprising to realize, as these snapshots of the past pop up, is just how many set-piece events have been added to GW2 and then discarded in less than three years. Events that would, in other MMOs, most certainly have represented permanent recurring content.

A rift in surreality

Over in EQ2 right now Errolisi Day has just ended and Brewday is coming in. Those holidays come round every single year, bringing with them all the content they've accrued over the life of the game. Most years something new is added but rarely is anything taken away. Any year that I get the itch to revisit holiday events in Norrath or Azeroth or Middle Earth or just about any other of the imaginary worlds I've called home for a while I can be fairly confident the party will still be going on.

I'm hoping to visit FFXIV during the current "don't make a stranger of yourself" welcome back week that runs until the ninth of March. There I mean to board the much-ballyhooed Golden Saucer to see whether Triple Triad is really anything like Vanguard's much-missed Diplomacy card game. No-one knows what the future holds but I feel reasonably assured in suggesting that if I don't make it to Eorzea this time round the Chocobo races will still be running whenever I do find the time to drop by.

Things just don't work that way in Tyria. For all the lather and strop over "limited time events", for all the hue and cry and tarring and feathering after the Karka Invasion and the Taming of Southsun, the game has largely carried on with a modified version of the St Crispin's Day Solution.

Can't say we weren't warned

Remember Dragon Bash? In Telara something very similar happens every year. In Tyria it's a once-and-done deal. The Bazaar of the Four Winds managed one repeat appearance before it crashed and burned. Literally. Super Adventure Box similarly managed a single encore before the plinky-plink music stuttered into silence. When you come to think of it, what set festivals do we have left in GW2? Halloween, Wintersday and... erm...that's it.

Really, check the Wiki. Two, count 'em, two whole holidays! WoW has thirteen, EQ2 ten, LotRO has a big bash for each season of the year and half a dozen small celebrations scattered around between. You can quite literally mark them on your calendar except you won't need to because you'll have a calendar in the game itself that keeps track stuff like that.

Good luck planning ahead that way in GW2. True, you don't have to be there at a set time on a set day or forever wonder what could have been, the way everyone complained about so bitterly back in Autumn 2012. No, you just have to be there at some point during a set period instead and you'd better be paying attention because, likely as not, there won't be much warning before it starts.

We'll always have Halloween

Once that extended moment, which you can generally bet on stretching for two weeks, Tuesday to Tuesday, passes, chances seem to be increasingly slender whether you'll get a second shot. The subtle way this change has been slipped under the guard of the frenzied supporters of equal access gameplay is exemplary.  Give the people what you want them to have while telling them you have listened and are giving them what they said they wanted. Slick.

Counter to that, though, I do notice, as I gaze nostalgically at shots of Scarlet's probes in The Mists or blocky, primary-colored animals cavorting through Metrica Province, there is a move afoot to package and conceal temporary content neatly away in instances, where it doesn't frighten the horses that we don't have and can be sold on at a profit. The recent Golem Invasion that turned out to be a player-exploited bug not the harbinger of some unexpected World Event, reminded me sharply of how long it's been since some strange, unexplained addition to the open-world landscape sparked frenzied speculation.

I do hope things aren't going to become too tidy. I love looking back at all these lost moments. I love knowing they will never return. Let's have more of it. With an expansion in the works it's a fine time for some excitement-building intrigue and mystery. I never travel anywhere without my camera and soon I won't even have to be in every shot.


  1. The constant change and lack of permanence is one of the main things that turned me off GW2.

    The thing about temporary content and major world changes is that their best trait is also their worst trait: They're the most powerful storytelling device an MMO has. They're the strongest tool in the box, the most potent spice in the pantry. Used sparingly and carefully, they can create something truly spectacular. But if they're the only tool you use, well, it's like trying to fix a leaky faucet with a backhoe.

    It doesn't take long for too much churn to sever one's sense of connection with a virtual world, and it puts new and returning players at a severe disadvantage. Which is bizarre, because it goes totally against GW2's core design philosophies. I don't understand why they'd bend over backwards to make sure new/returning players are not disadvantaged in terms of gear or character progression while at the same time taking the "sucks to be you" stance on story and world progression.

    This is one of the reasons I say GW2 is a great game that is completely ignorant of its own strengths.

    1. I'd completely endorse the idea that ANet don't really have a clear through-line on the game they have made. They often seem to have bitten off far more than they can chew, with whole sections of the playerbase going unattended for months at a time while they firefight or chase squirrels elsewhere. What I'd like is a bedrock-solid backdrop of content that pretty much never changes other than to be expanded and added to, overlaid with an ongoing and never-ending sequence of one-off "be there or miss out" live events.

      Best of both worlds in my opinion. They seem far too keen on "permanent change" for my liking, though, where a one-off event has to leave a lasting impact on the world. That's fine but it needs to be a lot better thought-through if it's going to do more than leave a lot of extraneous clutter across the landscape.

  2. I can relate to what superior said, it does seem to go entirely against the spirit of the game.

    Then again, it is for all intents and purposes entirely free content so GW2 can do with it what they like. If they prefer chucking out content that could feed the masses, so be it.

    Removing content does irk me greatly with subscription games, though, especially the kinds that also charge a box fee (and more). Given how subs are supposedly to allow for server access CS etc,it makes me wonder what a box actually represents if they can just take the suspposed contents away'from you.

    Which incedently is also why I prefer Freemium games, there is far less murkiness about what your actually paying for. Selling hats and bags might be cheesy, but there is no question about what you actually purchased. With too many box+ sub games it to me seems just glamor and pixie-dust you're paying for.

    Perhaps I've just had an odd upbringing, but with the Lawrence Olivier clip my mind's eye saw Blackadder The First instead of sir Olivier the whole thing. And somehow 'St. Crispin' always conjures up an image of a male Jeanne d'Arc to me (probably the sound of the name).

    1. It says in the T&C of most, probably all, MMOs that "Online content may change" so I think that's par for the genre. I have trouble taking Larry seriously too. I nearly went with Ken Branagh but I thought the older one was more amusing. Nice to know someone at least clicks through the links anyway!


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