Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Glad It's All Over : GW2

Well, at least that's out of the way.

Is that what ANet's writers think every time they sign off on another episode of GW2's Living Story World? I only ask because that's generally how I feel when I get to the final cut scene.

This morning I finished the Season Three finale. I started it last night, when I got home from work. It took me about three hours to get to what I suspected would be the final instance. Knowing from bitter experience that there was bound to be at least one long, tedious session of kiting and dodging to come I chose to log off and start again fresh the next day.

Since I have a couple of days off work, as soon as I'd had breakfast I picked up where I'd left off. It took me another couple of hours, so, approximately five hours in total.

That five hours included doing my dailies in WvW and completing all the Hearts in the new map as required by the storyline. It also involved several "puzzle" instances, during which most of my time was spent trying to read mouse-over tool-tips while various NPCs and Security Devices tried to set me on fire plus some time tabbed out searching the forums for hints about why certain things didn't seem to be working.

If you subtract the trial-and-error/research time and the filler, I guess there might be a couple of hours of actual content. If I ever take a second character through it, which is unlikely, I guess I'll find out.

Now that we've hit the buffers, Season reviews are starting to pop up on the Forum. I thought about doing one but I don't have the enthusiasm or the interest to go into detail. It's over, let it lie.

What I would say is that the whole format is looking tired and formulaic and that the underlying conceit - trying to mirror the narrative structure of a TV show - simply doesn't work. A successful TV show pumps out far more episodes far faster with much shorter gaps between them. Intertwined plot lines have time to develop and resolve; characters have space to change and grow.

You can't do that with four to six episodes spread across an entire year. Or, I should say, there's no evidence that ANet's current team of writers and instance designers can do that.

There is abundant evidence that their artists and map designers can keep up the pace but even there I see a problem. It's been great to get a new map every two or three months - a huge step up from the way the world failed to expand during the first two seasons. Unfortunately, although the maps vary widely in their environments, covering everything from permafrost to lava, they are all structurally more alike than that would suggest.

Add to that the very similar content - the Hearts, chained events, rewards - and there's a strong sense of diminishing returns. Yes, these are gorgeous maps, soaked in visual flair and rich with detail. They're still beginning to feel samey.

Looking back at my posts on the earlier episodes, my feelings a year ago were a lot more positive. I gave the first episode four stars out of five. I'd give the current one two stars for the storyline and maybe three for the map, although I haven't done map completion yet, nor fully explored it, so that's a tad premature.

Without giving any spoilers I would say that the storyline in this Finale is incoherent. That, however, is something we've come to expect and a lack of coherence is, frankly, the least of its problems. Much worse is the seeming inability - or possibly interest - in even paying lip-service to the idea that the player character has any agency, individuality or existence other than as a tool of the plot.

At one point, when words were put into my character's mouth that neither he nor I would ever utter, I shouted out loud at the screen in denial. I can only thank my stars I swapped from doing the Living Story on my Charr to my Asura because, had I been playing the Charr I might have thrown the monitor out of the window. I'm not alone.

Apart from that, the voice work seemed lackluster compared to earlier episodes, the dialog in general was often wooden, the persistently ironic tone seemed inappropriate and much of the humor fell flat. In terms of character and backstory I thought it was the least engaging episode to date.

As a "Finale" it fails completely because it doesn't finish. One - and only one, - sub-plot is resolved (in a way that presents serious moral problems that are simply ignored). Everything else is left to hang.

Instead of a resolution we get a commercial. The final cut scene is quite literally a trailer for the unnamed expansion. Or, more accurately, a trailer for the Official Announcement of that expansion.

At this point I have to say I'm about done with The Living Story as a narrative. It's pointless becoming emotionally or intellectually invested in something so arbitrary and etiolated.

Characters appear and disappear with no more than a half-line reference. Entire sub-plots proceed, climax and fade off stage. If we're lucky Taimi gives us a report in precis by cat-whisker. I read superhero comics for decades; I'm inured to this kind of thing but even I can't suspend this much disbelief or fill in this many plot-holes for myself.

Next week we get to find out the name of the forthcoming expansion and, presumably, what's in it. At this point I'm looking forward to some new maps that look and play at least a little differently. I'm hoping for some new Ascended weapons for each class because the "quests" for those were one of my highlights from Heart of Thorns. I'd like some big-ticket events as enjoyable as Dragon's Stand or Auric Basin. And that's about it.

What I'm really hoping is that ANet's A-Team has been working on the expansion the whole time and what we've been getting from Living Story for the last year is sloppy seconds. If so, then it's not been at all bad, considering. If it's the best they can do, though...


  1. From a story standpoint, this sounds terrible! I gave up on the Living World Story back at the end of Season 2, when it, too, became a cliffhanger and a commercial for HoT. I was disappointed with all sorts of character and plot inconsistencies, and just couldn't stomach the moral qualms I had with where it was going.

    However, having loved GW2 at launch, and being a loyal fan of GW1, I keep an ear open in hopes that maybe things turn around. Having never bought HoT (based on principle), I was locked out of experiencing Season 3, so all I can do is read about it. It sounds like it's gotten even worse over time, and all the stuff I disliked from the end of Season 2 (incoherent storytelling, annoying boss fights, frustrating zone density/design) have remained.

    Thanks for being dedicated to telling it like it is, even if we wished it was better.

    1. I should correct my 3 star rating for the map. I've spent most of today doing map completion and getting all the masteries and it's a really good map! Four stars at least.

      I think that, given your problems with the latter stages of Season 2, you'd be best advised to stay clear of GW2 as it is now. Most of what you didn't like then is still there now and the direction of travel is, if anything, even more strongly in that direction.

      I loved HoT though. It was waaaaay better than I expected and I have had a huge amount of fun there. I also very much like almost all the open world content that's been added since, and there's been a lot. It's only, really, the instanced LS stuff I'm dubious about and that comprises a tiny, tiny part of the game - basically one day's play every two or three months.

      We'll see what the expansion is like. My main worry now is that, having had low expectations exceeded last time, this time I'll be expecting too much and be disappointed.

    2. I thought the story in GW1 was fairly weak in Prophecies (Tyria), was quite decent in Factions (Cantha), was outstanding in Nightfall (Elona) and rather well done in the North (GWEN). I also felt that GW2's original storylines were pretty good.

      Jeff Grubb came to ArenaNet a bit before Factions was released, and left a bit ago.

      Stories aren't written by companies. They are written by authors. ANet has had a change of the guard, writing wise, for a while now.

    3. I'm thinking of playing through GW1's "Nightfall" expansion before the GW2 expansion, seeing as the setting is supposedly the same and I imagine they will draw heavily on the lore. Knowing GW1 lore inside out appears to be a pre-requisite for following the plot these days.

      I mentioned in a comment somewhere recently that EQ2, over nearly a decade and a half, has been incredibly consistent in the tone and style of its quest writing. I don't imagine for a moment the same people have been writing all of them all that time but for a player it feels as though they have. it can be done if the company has a sufficiently strong style guide and decides that consistency is a core value.

  2. Yep.

    I have been getting tired of GW2 lately, and this update is largely "more of the same," which granted, is a huge improvement over "made it worse" or "broke something that didn't need fixing." To have such low expectations though is terrible for a game I once loved.

    The story is amateurish, the writing clumsy - though the voice acting of a key character made it pleasantly bearable to a GW1 player, I have to admit there was no relation or connection to my GW2 -character- whatsoever. The fights/puzzles were interesting, though I completely bumbled my way through the first puzzle and only figured out the mechanics when it came back during the boss fight and refused to let me go further until I grokked it.

    However, I'm just generally not pleased at how close they are cutting the timing/reaction on some of the dodge-this or pick-this-up-and-throw-it mechanics, what is easy-mildly-challenging to an NA player on 70 ping or less becomes what-the-hell-each-of-my-button-presses-takes-a-quarter-of-a-second-back-and-forth-time-you-know to an oceanic/SEA player on 250-300ms ping.

    I'm half dreading exploring the new fractal. The fractal community is more toxic than the old dungeon community - Reddit already reports people demanding "exp" groups on day 2. Which is both offputting in its expessed elitism and actual moronity, where one is likely to find that the "elitist" the worst player hoping for a carry altogether.

    It would be better as an actual pre-established team with the patience to learn together and teach each other, accepting each other's occasional moronic mistakes - except that my raid group already has a clique of 5 doing their own fractal and the remaining five are not so organized nor invested enough for a regular fractal day. (And I have a -very- good raid group in that we've stuck it out for nigh on two years and 750 LIs now. Many have attritioned away by now.)

    It makes me wonder why I even bother to try and play this sort of multiplayer content and generally turns me off MMOs even further. Especially when I could get a Paladins game (still full of morons) in under 2 minutes and only have to put up with them for a brief match of less than 10 minutes, or play a singleplayer game where I am the only moron that bothers absolutely no one.

    Well. I suppose the new map is okay. That's pretty high praise these days, right?

    1. I've already seen complaints that the last boss of the new fractal is tuned to Raid level or above. ANet seem absolutely set on producing very high end "Elite" content now. I think they are in the old WoW/EQ mindset, where it's intended that only 1% of the playerbase actually does the content so long as that 1% swaggers around in front of the bank in the shiny armor they get from doing it so the other 99% keep paying their subs in the hope they might one day be able to do the same.

      Meanwhile the 99% actually plays the derp content in open world maps. Which, fortunately, remains available and entertaining.

      Oh, and did you see that the supposedly fluff collectable cats are now "locked" behind a Level 100 fractal? That's nice.

      As I posted this morning, it is what it is. Take it or leave it. I'm still taking it for now (pun entirely intended). If either Pantheon or Ashes of Creation turn out to be even half-way decent, though, that will be it, I think.


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