Sunday, February 26, 2017

Keeping Up With Current Events : GW2

When it comes to publicity for GW2's PvE offer it's The Living Story or Raids that ArenaNet's P.R. department turn to every time. Dungeons are long forgotten and Fractals, popular though they are, haven't really got the same cachet with a wider gaming audience.

For my money, though, the real core PvE content over the last nine months or so has been something so unheralded, so unpublicized, so secret even, that not only does it not merit a single puff piece from the publicity department, it doesn't even get much more than a single line in the patch notes.

Sometimes, as in last week's big skill balance patch, it doesn't even get that. I'm talking about the ongoing sequence of "Current Events" that so far has included a lengthy series of skirmishes and full-scale battles with bandits, a whole slew of cross-map zerg events and a lot of odd little sidebars and scavenger hunts.

As I look back at my progress through the winter and autumn to last summer, it's not the strung-out chapters of LS3 that remind themselves to me; it's taking sides in the tri-partite race to gather ley energy, or chasing a running figure from map to map alongside fifty other excited players, or jaunting across Tyria with my Rift Stabilizer in hand. Those are the experiences I'll be referring to in years to come, not the stuttering storyline with its ponderous gravitas, occasional chuckles and predictably irritating set pieces.

Almost without exception the Current Events have been well conceived and well implemented.  You don't always need to own Heart of Thorns to enjoy them, either, although sometimes they venture into maps that do require that access. By and large, though, they provide repeatable content that deepens and broadens the original game.

Trahearne's Memorial. I give it a week before some Asuran progeny puts a traffic cone on his head.

The current Current Event is one that does demand ownership of GW2's only expansion to date, which is not unreasonable given that it wraps up one of the trailing threads from HoT's main storyline. At the end of the Heart of Thorns personal story your character was left with a seemingly useless item, the broken sword Caladbolg, an unwieldy name for an unwieldy weapon.

It had belonged to of one of the NPC characters, the ever-unpopular Trahearne, but with him gone no-one really knew what to do with it. Although you could equip it, as a Rare quality weapon, certainly no-one who could get it would ever want to.

I threw mine in the bank along with all the other relics of past events that I like to mouse over once in a while. More practically-minded players salvaged theirs for crafting resources. Some, I'm sure, simply destroyed the useless thing to save space.

Well, now Caladbolg's time has come. With no foreshadowing or pre-amble and not even as much as a cryptic hint in the update notes, when you log in a character who finished the HoT personal story a letter arrives in the mail. That begins a lengthy and extremely enjoyable scavenger hunt, the details of which I won't document here because Dulfy has done it already. What would we do without her?

I spent some of Friday evening and most of Saturday afternoon finding the necessary fifteen shards and motes. It involved porting back and forth all over Tyria as well as to and from my home instance, the Lab in Rata Sum on this occasion, since the only character who ever finished the storyline in Heart of Thorns was my Asuran Druid.

The whole thing took longer than it might have done because that character had never even set foot in some of the maps he was asked to visit. When Ridhais, the Sylvari who purported to be able to repair (or "heal") the weapon opened a map for me to show me the nearest waypoint, as often as not all I saw was a blank wash of watercolored blur.

Pssst! Dog! This way!

That just made the whole thing more fun. All of the motes were in secluded, tranquil locations. Several of them were in hidden, secret spots, at least two of which I had never seen before even after four years and seventeen max level characters.

I used Dulfy's guide so I knew exactly where to go and even if I hadn't, the aforementioned in-game hints included a pop-up map with the nearest waypoint highlighted. A true explorer archetype might turn up their nose at such a catered tour but for me it was perfect. If Bartle had thought to add a "Sightseer" archetype I'd probably score 100%.

If this current event had limited itself only to a trip around this well-chosen selection of obscure visual delights it would already have been the highlight for me of this year's GW2 offering so far. The visit to the Nolan strawberry farm, of which I was, until yesterday, quite shamefully ignorant, was enough on its own to beat the entire last episode of Living Story for sheer satisfaction.

You can never have too many shafts of sunlight. Or free strawberries.

It's also well worth emphasizing that, although several of the stops on this trip around Tyria's most beautiful hidden treasures do also feature POI's or Hero Challenges flagged on the main map and required for map completion, several of the most impressive do not. The hidden cavern in The Grove, like Ayna's strawberry farm, have no reward other than the sheer thrill of discovering them. (Well, and the strawberries, of course).

With its foregrounded emphasis on map completion GW2 has always taken criticism for offering "Exploring by Numbers" but that's an interpretation only an Achiever archetype could place on what has to be one of the most intricately detailed, deeply rewarding imaginary spaces available for virtual exploration. If you aren't finding uncharted wonders you just aren't looking.

For the life of the game so far the best-kept secrets of ANet's formidable art team have been just that - secret. While this opens a few up to a wider audience it's merely a taster. There are so many more to discover if you take the time to find them.

Sometimes I roleplay Calvin and Hobbes, sometimes I roleplay William Brown. Mostly, though, I can't maintain that level of complexity and ironic detachment.

As I said, if this was all the Current Event had to offer it would have been plenty but there was more. A lot more. Once all the components had been collected there were not one but three boss fights to complete. When I read that on Dulfy my heart did sink a little.

ANet's idea of a solo boss fight for a storyline is generally a twenty minute war of attrition that leaves casual players angry, frustrated and with a thumping headache. The rightly vilified final fight of the latest LS3 chapter is a sadly typical example.

Whichever team is responsible for Current Events, however, shares absolutely none of the Living Story developers' penchant for grim, claustrophobic misery. Each of the five fights (it transpires you have to battle the first two bosses twice) was fast, fun and didn't outstay its welcome. Every one took place in a large, open space that allowed for full use of the Dodge mechanic.

See what happens when you give me room to breathe?
Best of all, there was no "clever" mechanic, transformation or trick required to win. All you have to do is play your character using the skills of the class in the intended manner, just as you would in any other part of the wider game. So very refreshing. If only whoever designed these encounters could be put in charge of all the solo instanced combat scenarios in the game, how much happier the broad mass of the playing public might be.

So, we have a lengthy, entertaining event that culminates in several enjoyable and satisfying fights. Could it get better than that? Why, yes it could!

If there's one thing that GW2 has taken consistent flak for over the years it's the inadequacy of the reward for the effort required. A few bags of crafting mats and, if you're really lucky, a Rare quality item that will go straight to salvage and that's your lot. Maybe, once in a while, if the RNG gods are in a really good mood, you might get an Exotic.

Look at my sword, Dog. Look! This way! Don't eat that!

Not this time. The reforged Cadalbolg, when you complete the full sequence, comes back to you as an Ascended weapon. Ascended is the top of the tree when it comes to loot in GW2 and few people have as much as they'd like. Getting anything Ascended as a reward is a guaranteed dopamine hit.

Of course, you'd want it to be something you can use. How fortunate, then, that at the end of the final fight five NPCs appear to offer you a choice of weapons - Longsword, Scepter, Shield, Sword or Dagger.

Even though the NPCs warn you to choose wisely, naturally, in the aftermath of such a heated battle there are going to be players who click on the wrong thing. That's not speculation - someone was wailing on the forums about having done exactly that within a matter of hours.

Okay, Dog. Fun's over. Come on. Come here! Don't make me come get you...
Alright, I'm coming to get you.
Well, the exemplary team behind it all had thought of that, just as they'd thought of all those players who would have destroyed the original, broken Caladbolg they'd need to get the whole thing started. Those players were able to get another Caladbolg from Miyani at The mystic Forge, while everyone who completes the event gets a letter the next day inviting them to meet with The Pale Tree.

With that meeting out of the way, Ridhais takes up residence in the player's home instance, where he will swap your weapon for a different one as often as you like provided you come up with a thousand Unbound Magic each time to power the process. It's an elegant safety net for a problem that good design has in any case largely prevented from happening at all.

Like all the somewhat inaccurately labelled "Current Event" content, this is now a permanent part of
the game, at least as far as anything in an MMO is ever permanent. It's also good enough in just about every way that I feel motivated for the first time ever to finish up the HoT storyline on other characters just so I can do it again. I could very much use those extra Ascended items and I would very much enjoy another afternoon going through the steps it takes to get them.

I have no idea how many developers and designers it requires to create and curate this Current Event content but whoever they are they put the rest of the game to shame. How I'd love to play the version of GW2 these people would make if they were in charge of the whole thing.

For now I'll just keep scanning the patch notes each time, hoping for the one line that hints of something unusual. That's where all the fun is going to be.


  1. The Caladbolg quest is excellent. I'm glad they yanked the legendary weapon team out to work on the living world. Far more people are going to get to finish Caladbolg than a precursor.

    Those Maguuma Lilies for the remaining weapons though... urgh. I feel like I've yanked out 50 jungle plants in two days and got nada.

    1. I wonder why we have all these Ascended Weapon "quests" but none for Ascended armor? I think the HoT elite spec ascended weapon colections and this one for Caladbolg are pitch-perfect in terms of required effort/difficulty vs reward. I'd love to do the same for armor.

  2. I also took numerous pictures of the shafts of sunlight in the hidden strawberry garden. I can't think of any other game that's as visually rewarding.

    I won't be doing the "Salad Bowl" quest on any other character, which means I'll probably end up buying the crafting materials for Zojja's weapons and armor presumably some time before 2020. I do like the organic Caladbolg family of skins, though. Worth 5,000 unbound magic, without a doubt.

    1. I have a ton of unbound magic stashed so I'll almost certainly be spending it on the skins/achievement. I'll probably take one more character through the whole thing as well although I plan to do a lot of things I never seem to find the time actually to do...

  3. This sounds so great! Another vote for more of this and the specialization collections!


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