I share a considerable frustration and discontent with Jeromai, who's posted several times on the update already, over the general direction and approach the game is taking. There was a brief period following the sudden departure of Colin Johanson, when it seemed GW2 might be returning to the inclusive, casual-friendly, supposedly mold-breaking tenets of the now-infamous Manifesto, but those days proved to be short-lived.
GW2 in 2017 is primarily a game of instances. The original concept of a sprawling open-world game in which "you can just naturally play with all the people around you" is long dead. Or, rather, part of it is entirely dead, fenced off in Raid instances accessed only by the typical self-appointed "elite" that clusters in the velvet-roped curated spaces of every theme-park MMO, while much of the rest is on life-support, sustained by the artificial stimulus of map-specific currencies and daily rewards.
|Jennah's first dome: created without explanation and later expanded without explanation to cover the entire city. I want to play that Mesmer.|
The thrilling promo video for "Head of the Snake" led many to hope, some to fear and a few to assume that Divinity's Reach might be due for the treatment previously meted out to Lion's Arch. A re-run of Scarlet's assault on the pirate city seemed altogether too much to hope for and indeed so it proved.
At risk of spoilers, although it's apparent from the screenshot at the top of the post, which is the view of the Human capital as seen from Lake Doric, the walls of Divinity's Reach do not fall. In fact, contrary to the evidence of that video and the in-game cut scenes, they don't appear to suffer any significant damage whatsoever.
|Better stay away from those|
That carry around a fire hose
Who, then, perhaps we should be asking ourselves, stands behind Queen Jennah's newly-acquired, miraculous powers? How is it that this former poster-girl for hapless, helpless love interest, the Penelope Pitstop of Kryta whose plaintive calls for help caused Logan Thackeray to abandon Snaff to his death, collapse all hope of defeating the crystal dragon Kralkatorrik and bring to a chaotic and acrimonious end the dragon-slaying guild Destiny's Edge, can suddenly cause instant death with a flick of her wrist and raise and maintain an impenetrable dome across an entire city at a moment's notice?
It may be that, as with Scarlet, there is at least a semi-coherent explanation but if so it remains, like the influence of Mordremoth, at best dimly sensed and obscure. Or it could just be bloody awful plotting. Either way, we are not getting a two or three month long version of The Battle for Lion's Arch. We're getting a permanent map that forever records the short few hours of Minister Caudecus's futile revolution.
|Let me talk to him, Your Majesty. I'm fluent in the universal language of quest-markers.|
Kind of a living tableau rather than a Living World. Disappointing. Unambitious. Tame. Also practical and apparently very popular if both the current buzz in map chat and the outpourings of praise on the forums are any guide.
The sad and inevitable conclusion seems to be that not enough people wanted the vision of that manifesto. As we have discussed many times, the distance between what people claim they want and what they actually want is like interstellar space.
I have a worrying feeling that had ANet chosen to make their sequel to GW2 something that followed rather than broke with the existing MMO conventions of it's time then it might have become the closest thing to the fabled "WoW-killer" the genre has seen. It could have been FFXIV: A Realm Revisited a year earlier in other words.
|Backwards into the future? Here's hoping.|
They did not choose that path and they have paid the penalty. They made a game that wasn't quite what their market segment wanted and when they shifted to accommodate those expectations the market itself changed away from them. If someone in ANet towers is drafting a design doc for GW3 right now I imagine the words "survival" and "sandbox" are somewhere prominent.
We are, as they say, where we are. Not only is there no hint of a GW3 (and since the official position is that GW2 will run as the company's primary product indefinitely that's not a hint we're likely to be given for a long time yet) there's still no official news or even announcement of the second expansion.
What we have are these increasingly formulaic assertions of "content" that arrive under the flag of the Living Story. It's not nothing. It is, arguably, an improvement on Living Story 2, although I struggle to recall, without going to look it up, what actually happened in that season.
|If only all of Kryta looked like this.|
The new map is a fair size and quite interesting. The events are, perhaps, less rigidly organized than Bitterfrost or Ember Bay. There is, to some slight extent, a more organic, unpredictable pace.
The art department, ANet's one indisputable star asset, has done its usual, expected best but this is Kryta they've been given to work with and there's only so much you can do with scrub grass and dirt. Not to mention there's a war going on.
The promised challenging, group-oriented "leather farm" (oh, the mental pictures that conjures...) turns out to be a big hill with hundreds of fast-spawning centaurs. As Jeromai reports it benefits from a full zerg rather than a mere "group" but since what's farmed turns out to be almost entirely the wrong kind of leather, whether zergs will be easy to come by seems less than certain.
|Anybody fancy the Leather Farm? Guys? Please don't report me!|
As for the story, the usual fear of spoilers prevents me from going into too much detail. Suffice it to say that if Queen Jennah is not being mind-controlled and if Countess Anise is not revealed to be a major villain at some point then we as players are effectively being asked not just to condone but to endorse fascism. It's a queasy scenario. I hope the writers know what they are doing.
The story arc of the chapter, something most players take to be intended as solo content, ends with one of ANet's trademark annoying, pointless, attritional boss fights. These are always inappropriate to the context but we are all by now inured to them. This one, however, was so execrably tuned that forum outrage erupted (again) and a very swift and quite severe nerf to difficulty followed.
I completed it on the first attempt under the original difficulty. This is not any indication of my skill as a player. I happened to be doing it on my heal-specced Druid and I simply bored the Boss to death. Even so I died about half a dozen times. Mrs Bhagpuss, on hearing about it, declined even to attempt it and now hasn't logged in to the game for three days.
|This made me laugh.|
There were plenty of things I enjoyed. Some of the dialog and cut scenes were above par. Countess Anise infuriates me so much that I literally shout at the screen when she's on. That has to count as successful writing or voice acting or both. Canach has become one of my favorite NPCs. I laughed out loud several times at his snide, drawling sarcasms.
There were also plot developments that surprised and intrigued. I do think that trying to tell a coherent narrative in this extenuated, disparate fashion would challenge even the best of writers and video games do not generally attract the best of writers or, probably, the second or third best. Still, they are making a fist of it and I remain involved.
|But then I'm a sucker for meta-textuality.|
Mechanically there was one worthwhile innovation. At various points there are interactive objects or even creatures that respond only to one class. I spotted a turret only engineers could use and my druid was able to tame an attacking mob mid-fight and turn it on its trainer. That was oddly satisfying.
Also of note is the addition of vendor-purchasable paintings and furniture that can be placed in Guild Halls. Our tiny guild has no guild hall (although the large WvW guild I'm also in does) so the reason for the excitement this awoke in me when I happened upon it isn't perhaps obvious.
|You really want that thing in your personal instance?|
In summary, then, "Head of the Snake" is not by any means a bad update. It's adequate; satisfactory, even. Had it been the first chapter of this season I imagine I would be almost fulsome in my praise. The problem is one of diminishing returns. Having found a format that the playerbase appears to deem more acceptable than either the open-world sprawl and bi-monthly cadence of LS1 or the shut-down, buttoned-up isolation of LS2, ANet unsurprisingly seem keen to play it for all it's worth.
I'm just not sure how much that is or how long the goodwill can be sustained before the inevitable ennui takes over once again.