Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Managing Expectations : GW2

Yesterday Guild Wars 2 saw the long-awaited arrival of Living Story 3. The update became available around six in the evening, my time. I finished the whole thing just after midnight. Therein lies the conundrum ArenaNet have yet to unravel.

Of course, the Summer Quarterly update or whatever we're calling it now has a lot more going for it than just LS3. There's a new fractal and a lot of tweaks to that game mode. There's a revamped sPvP map. There are the usual slew of class nerfs and boosts, bug fixes and Quality of Life improvements.

On the last of those, why it's taken four freakin' years for ranger pet names to become persistent is beyond me. How was that not a) the original default or b) fixed in beta? ANet seem almost to make a feature of the incredible amount of time and effort it takes them to do things other MMO developers knock off without thinking as a matter of routine.

During the six hours I was playing (in reality nearer five thanks to a number of re-patches and server outages during which I wandered off and did other things) I took over eighty screenshots. Some of those were in anticipation of writing this post but most were in response to the usual excellent visuals. You can fault ANet on many things but the quality of their art department isn't one of them.
Speech-maker, ice sculptor, Commander of the there no end to my talents?

What is a problem, however, is using most of those shots to illustrate this piece. There's a spoiler in just about every one. This happens every time. I'd love to discuss the nitpicking details of the plot with anyone who's got to the end but I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't.

It's a spoiler even to say that the update adds a new map but I'm going to go that far. It does. At first sight it seems like a small one, along the lines of the original, partial introduction of Dry Top, but on exploration it turns out to be much larger than it looks.

Bloodstone Fen rivals Verdant Brink for verticality, which makes the use of "Fen" in the map's name ironic at best. Has anyone at ANet ever seen a fen? Or looked the word up in a dictionary?

Faulty geographical nomenclature notwithstanding, Bloodstone Fen is a fine new map. Wait, let me qualify... Bloodstone Fen is a fine new map if you have all your gliding masteries and jumping mushrooms unlocked.

Updraft Central

It's very much a post-HoT map. You can go there at 80 but if you can't use updrafts, stealth while gliding, ride ley-lines and hop about via mushrooms I struggle to see how you could even survive let alone prosper.

If you do have all those, though, it's great! There's a ton of things to do. Dynamic Events, champion battles, collections, achievements, all the usual entertainment is there and in quantity. There are some new additions - for the first time you can fight while gliding - and some nice twists to old ones.

There also seems to be no overarching meta this time, which is refreshing. Instead the map has its own set of Dailies discrete from the regular ones. That suits me very well.

From what I've seen so far I give the new map four stars out of five. I'd give the storyline about the same. It would have been less if I hadn't just seen Mrs Bhagpuss finish the final boss fight with ease.

Without going into any spoilery detail I found the two boss fights that end the adventure as tedious and annoying as most of the ones in LS2 but it turns out that was mostly because I made the mistake of doing them on a berserker staff elementalist. When you don't have to dodge and heal for ninety per cent of the fight just to stay alive it seems things go a lot faster. Who knew?
That's how I shall always think of you from now on, Rytlock. Uncle Trombone.

The best part of the story this time around is definitely the humor. I laughed out loud on five separate occasions. The writing is snappy, the voice acting solid but the star by far is Rytlock, who gets all the best lines and delivers them superbly. Taimi is on good form too, particularly in her sparring with the odious Phlunt.

There's a lot of non-combat action, all of which is either amusing or emotionally engaging. It's always surprising to find out my character has skills of which I was previously unaware. I had no idea she could ice-sculpt like a professional artist, for example. There are also some puzzles simple enough that even I could manage them although I recommend failing at least once for another chuckle.

In a week or two I'll probably feel able to discuss the narrative developments, some of which are intriguing. GW1 veterans are, once again, very definitely the target audience. The final cliffhanger was a surprise to me.

Until then, let's go back to the conundrum to which I referred at the top of the post. It took me one evening to wrap up the entire narrative element of a quarterly update. Mike O'Brien hopes they might speed that up to bi-monthly. Whoop and if you will pardon the hyperbole de doo.

Can we say "ironic foreshadowing"?

It isn't that GW2 is actually being unreasonably parsimonious in its content right now. With the drip of WvW tweaks, the Current Events and the general QoL improvements that come in the usual two-weekly updates the game has been getting a fair amount of new stuff. This update includes several decent medium-term goals including new Masteries and an  Ascended Backpack to work towards.

If they didn't have a past history of hyperactive oversupply and a very unfortunate tendency to mismanage expectation they would have no more of a problem than most MMOs in keeping the audience from throwing cushions. But they do and despite all the pre-emptive damage limitation there is a clear belief  among many that LS3 will be pumping out enough content to keep everyone busy all the time.

So far they have tried continual development of narrative in the open world and very fast delivery of packaged content in instances and each time the main complaint has been "is that all there is"? Players are never satisfied. Players never will be satisfied. That's why you under-promise and over-deliver, because that way you stand a fighting chance of getting grudging approval.
So much subtext.

If you check the forums it's plain that quite a few people are still expecting LS3 to roll out a new episode every two weeks, while the ones who have been paying attention are now focused on "every two months", which was an aspiration, rather than "every three months", which is the commitment. Managing expectations is an art every bit as important to the success of a business as delivering content and it's an area that needs a lot of work.

That said, it's a more substantial, more entertaining, more satisfying update than I was expecting. I can't really see it as a great deal more than we got in, say, two LS2 episodes, making it about half the size we used to call "not enough" but it's not at all bad. It should keep me amused for a couple of weeks and here's hoping for more Current Events to keep the hoop spinning.

Overall I give Out of The Shadows a B+. Good but can do better.


  1. I think they did a much better job with the arcs in the story this episode.

    Things happened from chapter to chapter (significant plot points, that is), there were a couple of emotional arcs (somber to humorous, slow paced to sudden happenings, and back again) and the cliffhanger ended on a nice note of finality with an unspoken " be continued" attached.

    Now I do hope they can keep this up in future episodes, but am still a little too jaded and burnt to be overly optimistic. Credit where credit is due, though.

    The world boss of the new map is also a nice touch, I thought, philosophy-wise. Essentially an open world "raid" where the whole map can participate, mixed with introducing the first raid wing's bosses mechanics in a considerably less punishing manner.

    1. I'm in the middle of playing through it a second time and I've noticed a few things I missed. The lengthy and unavoidable conversations, such a positive feature on a first playthrough, are going to limit replayability somewhat, I fear. I have eleven level 80s on the HoT account...

      Mrs Bhagpuss did the World Boss and enjoyed it. I was trying to find her but I was on a character that had just arrived on the map I didn't have the waypoints so I missed it. New World Bosses are something they could do a lot more of in my opinion. Every map should have at least one.

  2. Bloodstone Fen was in the Maguuma Jungle (back when Maguuma was jungle) in GW1. It was fairly fen-like.

    1. I just discovered that when I was googling for something. And to be fair there is a small part down at the bottom that looks marginally fen-like. I guess if you have a gigantic maginuclear explosion that then flips into an equally giant implosion you are going to get some involuntary landscaping.


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