Monday, March 30, 2015

Legendary Hearts : GW2

ArenaNet's most recent Heart of Thorns infodump appears to have passed by largely unremarked. That's a shame because, contrary to all expectations, the treatise on the forthcoming changes to the way Legendary Weapons can be acquired is full of positives for the game as a whole.

"Legendaries", as they are commonly known, have always held little interest for me. They are almost universally ugly; overwrought, gaudy and garish. They have particle effects and other visual tricks that look utterly ridiculous, up to and including the infamous Bow That Fires Unicorns. To see anyone running around wielding these gimcrack fairground prizes inspires something closer to irritation than respect, as though some yahoo had just roared past in his SUV, flinging beer cans out the window.

Sunrise, one of the less-hideous
I felt the same about Epic weapons in Everquest, whose introduction I remember clearly. Those trophy weapons shared with GW2's Legendaries a long, arduous and largely disliked path to acquisition but they did at least have the considerable benefit of providing a very significant upgrade in power when you finally got your hands on one. Legendaries don't even do that. In keeping with GW2's ethos of avoiding power creep at all costs, when it comes to killing things, a Legendary is much the same as an Ascended weapon. It just looks flashier. Oh, and you can swap the stats around.

Given my lack of interest in the outcome, then, it's surprising how excited I was to read about the process. The new process, that is.

Currently, in order to obtain a Legendary you must first get your hands on a "Precursor". There's a separate and specific one of these for each Legendary and to say they are rare as hen's teeth is to do a disservice to galline dentistry.

Popular belief has it that these drop from certain significant encounters such as dragons but it's interesting to note that, as the wiki advises, they "can drop from any enemy, chest, or WvW loot bag". Can, but in my experience don't. In two and half years, on six accounts, over too many thousands of hours of gameplay to own up to, neither Mrs Bhagpuss nor I have seen a single precursor drop.

The more common way of obtaining them is by throwing Rare weapons into the Mystic Forge in bundles of four. The putative genie who serves out some obscure prison sentence therein can, although again usually does not, spit back a precursor. Finally, if all else fails, you can just buy the damn thing from the Trading Post, where they retail for hundreds or even thousands of gold pieces. If I ever get one you can bet that's where it's going.

Of course, just getting the precursor is only the beginning. After that comes one of GW2's
The Dreamer aka My Little Ponybow
increasingly common scavenger hunts. The shopping list of parts is ferocious but although before launch it also seemed like something only an insane person would consider, by now it's just another in-game chore and one among many at that.

From this exceedingly bitter lemon the HoT team appear to have come up with a way to make some rather sweet lemonade. There has been talk for years of "crafting " precursors and it was widely believed that recipes would be added in the expansion. Not so.

Instead, the new Mastery system, about which I have hitherto felt more than a little skeptical, has been pressed into service. What's more, Precursors themselves have been broken up into three distinct stages. Entire tri-partite tracks (what any other game would call Quests) have been created for each individual precursor.

Part one leads to "a nontradable exotic weapon with a distressed version of the existing precursor skin". Part two gets you "a recipe ... resulting in another nontradable exotic weapon with the existing precursor skin". Finally, for completing part three, the reward is "the recipe to craft the polished final iteration of the precursor". At which point you are ready to begin the same, original, demented process of crafting the Legendary itself.

Genius! For the grand addition of no new benefits whatsoever the game gets enough new content to last the average player years! There are twenty of these weapons and many, many players desire several for various characters or even, because in GW2 combat skills derive from weapon type, for the same character. And, of course, HoT adds a new weapon to each class, so even people who play just one character and have all the Legendaries that class can use have something new to keep them busy.

Crabstick, anyone?
Other than my objective admiration for the elegance of the solution, given that I have no interest in Legendaries for myself, why am I excited about this change? Well, it's the side effects; the fallout.

The hoops through which would-be precursor "crafters" will have to jump are spread far and wide across Tyria. Players will find themselves roaming the world "fighting fierce creatures around Tyria and acquiring a trophy to show for it" or traveling to obscure corners of far-flung maps to "barter for knowledge, seek out great minds and convince them to teach you their tricks". That alone should keep no small number of otherwise neglected maps busy with busywork but there's more.

Every map other than the starting areas is getting something called a "Map Bonus". That appears to be another jiggle chest that pops up "periodically" in the lower-right corner of the screen; this time when you're "completing events, jumping puzzles, and mini-dungeons". The little chest will usually contain crafting mats appropriate to the area, but there will be a cycle for these so that the same map might give bones one visit and venom sacs the next.

Yet again this is an absolute marvel of manipulative efficiency. It's not just re-using the older maps for a newer purpose, it's doubling the number of maps without adding any maps! Given the extreme interest a significant proportion of GW2 players express in getting their paws on precursors I anticipate an ongoing, if perhaps increasingly bad-tempered, relationship between the players of level 80 characters and the mid-level maps they thought they'd never have to visit again.

For someone like me, who spends a huge amount of time in those maps by choice and who was concerned that the arrival of HoT, with its gliders and verticality and new shiny newness, would kill them stone dead, it's a godsend. It's also very likely to be a money mine for anyone with no interest in making the end product for themselves.

This one I'd use.
There's more to it even than this. The whole enterprise  does seem, at least on paper, to have been remarkably well thought-through. The 1-15 maps are exempt from Map Bonuses, leaving some of my favorite places unchanged in their increasingly outlandish innocence. The new pre-cursor process also operates by account, meaning that if you want to dual-wield Legendary pistols (and you can bet someone does) you'll be back to the old method of getting the second, so Zamorros and the economy will be kept busy.

Finally, all of the above only applies to the old set of twenty Legendaries. The expansion is going to add a bunch more along with their pre-cursors and those will use a similar but separate system. Unlike the current Legendaries the new ones won't be tradeable so you'll have to just knuckle down and get on with it. No farming gold to buy your way to godhood. As someone who wishes that principle applied to, well, pretty much everything in MMOs, I'm very happy with that decision, especially since I won't be directly affected by it myself. It's always easier to have principles on someone else's behalf.

This was the first big reveal for Heart of Thorns that left me with a warm, positive feeling. I've come around to the idea of the Desert Borderlands following the similarly well-documented and explained  piece that followed the disconcerting and disheartening stage presentation so perhaps I should just wait for the full write-ups in future and ignore all the livestreams. I still can't say I'm actively looking forward to the core content itself, but at least the periphery is starting to show some appeal.

Who knows? Maybe I'll even get a pre-cursor this way. I must say the idea of a "distressed version of the existing precursor skin" sounds right up my street. If those look anything like as good as the corroded, barnacle-encrusted Orrian weapons, some of my favorite skins in the game, then I'm in!


  1. Layering objectives atop one another, as has been catalyzed by the latest iteration of dailies (among other things), will undoubtedly satisfy the efficiency enthusiasts of the world. It's nice to have a visible endpoint - a guiding star in the sky - for one's otherwise open-ended exploration, discovery, and box-ticking. I agree that these are well-formed changes, especially because they will also engage the interest of players for whom the acquisition of legendary weapons is not a primary motivator.

    1. GW2 long ago entered the realm of "I wouldn't start from here" for me. Everything they do has to be contextualized with" well I wouldn't have done this at all but given that it's being done anyway..." before I can come to a judgment on whether I approve of it or not.

      I wouldn't have gone for the "re-use old maps" over "make new maps" option but they did and since they did this looks like a pretty good way of doing it. We'll find out how it feels, rather than how it reads, when we get our hands on the beta or the release.

  2. Perhaps it's just a WvW thing, but am I the only rangering scouty type who wants the top weaponry but does NOT want the noisy attention-seeking effects? On anything?

    My armor is as drab as I can make it, I habitually stow my pet, I reskin my weapons to one of the basic forms to NOT DRAW ATTENTION to my squishy butt as I haul supply around the enemy-infested countryside. Shock and Awe is firepower, right? Not 'OMG what is he wearing we must run away.'

    Wintercrow, SoR

  3. Perhaps it's just a WvW thing, but am I the only rangering scouty type who wants the top weaponry but does NOT want the noisy attention-seeking effects? On anything?

    My armor is as drab as I can make it, I habitually stow my pet, I reskin my weapons to one of the basic forms to NOT DRAW ATTENTION to my squishy butt as I haul supply around the enemy-infested countryside. Shock and Awe is firepower, right? Not 'OMG what is he wearing we must run away.'

    Wintercrow, SoR

    1. Hehe! I heard you the first time! I agree. We know several commanders by their outrageous garb and it makes them a lot easier to target. I like to keep my backline characters looking drab and unremarkable - makes it so much easier to rain fiery death on the enemy without anyone noticing.

    2. You're not alone some of my characters are deliberately flashy while others deliberately wear scrub gear. It all depends on what I want to do with them. my wvw scouting gear is generally full tank and transmuted to look as bland and low level as possible


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide