Friday, September 29, 2017

Sun Is In The Sky : GW2

When Heart of Thorns was first revealed as a jungle-themed expansion there was considerable pushback. Plenty of people, it turns out, don't like jungles and for good reason: they tend to be dense, confusing and hard to navigate.

With ArenaNet pushing "verticality" hard there was considerable apprehension over playability. For many players anxiety turned to anger, when the short beta tests confirmed the only new map on offer to be vertiginous, claustrophobic and, worst of all, teeming with mobs far more aggressive and powerful than anything previously seen in Tyria.

Re-reading my own words on that first beta weekend it's revealing and surprising to see just how far away from that consensus opinion I was even on first call. Far from the expected "dense jungle filled with hyper-aggressive, overpowered wildlife and featuring a three-dimensionality that requires a mastery-point grind to overcome" what I got was a stroll in the park. Literally.
"I found myself wandering about largely unchallenged for the best part of an hour along valleys and branches and rope walkways filled with non-aggressive boars, behemoths and various stripes of civilized frogs.

Even the creatures that did attack on sight, mostly bats and some new kind of ambulant mushroom, weren't the 'roided up nu-mobs that throw shapes and take forever to kill. Just normal wildlife. It seemed easy enough, pleasant even, to wander about, take screenshots, admire the view.
With only a portion of Verdant Brink to judge by, I did worry about variety. "The big problem with a jungle setting became quickly evident, though: it all looks the same." That concern faded fast when launch brought the freedom to explore the new maps at leisure. I was so taken aback by what I found that I had to shout about it:  "IT'S NOT A JUNGLE! It's a FOREST!"

ANet have been widely praised for not making the same mistakes with Path of Fire that they made with Heart of Thorns and so far, broadly at least, that seems fair. In one respect, though, they seem to have dropped into exactly the same hole.

The antipathy to deserts seems smaller than that expressed towards jungles but there was still some concern over an entire expansion filled with nothing but sand. I'm fairly sure there would be objections to any thematic environment from tundra to lava so the question has to be why bother?

Really, why is it that expansions for MMOs come with such restrictive labels? Path of Fire is no more a "desert" expansion than Heart of Thorns was a "jungle" one. It has areas of desert in it, some of them quite extensive, but that's hardly the same thing.

In the long years before it launched I don't recall anyone feeling the need to market GW2 as an "Alpine" themed MMO, even though much of the environment looks like Bavaria or Switzerland. And of course the environment was far more varied than that - from wetlands to jungle, Edwardian dreamscape to Lovecraftian nightmare and back.

Path of Fire marks what seems to be a concerted attempt to reinstate much of what people supposedly loved about the original game. I may go into what that means for the gameplay at some point but as far as the environment is concerned it means a bit of everything.

There's a lot of sand, yes, but a large area of Desert Highlands is snow and ice, where it pushes north into Deldrimor Front. Most of the rest of that map is some kind of Roger Dean fantasy (yes, him again) with lush foliage on surreal stonestacks and deep caves filled with alien vegetation. Further south, the Elon Riverlands are - spoiler alert! - a river delta. Beyond that comes The Devestation, which resembles no environment ever seen on Earth.

Even the parts that are apparently supposed to be desert, like Crystal Oasis have more flowers and gardens than Kew. There's a colossal water pumping station for heaven's sake! And some sea-front real estate that would have billionaires from across Tyria flying in for the season. I bet Evon Gnashblade has a penthouse marked out already.

All this, mind you, in the midst of a refugee crisis caused by an impending God-War. What the place must look like in peacetime beggars the imagination.

If I was running ANet's marketing department I wouldn't have run with "desert-themed expansion". That's all I'm saying.


  1. I'm loving the new zones -- it's exactly what I hoped for when coming into an Elona-themed expansion. As a long time GW1 player, they've dropped so many references, areas and things to be excited about visiting. Or, rather, revisiting in the new context. They did their lore research and have, so far, held true to GW1 quite well. Nostalgia is the best part of PoF for me so far. XD

    1. It seems awfully early in the development cycle to be playing the nostalgia card...but then I guess it has been five years already. They just release expansions so very slowly compared to what I'm used to from other MMOs. I recognize some of it but I have no emotional attachment to anything in GW1 after prophecies so it doesn't press my buttons.


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