Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Catbird Seat : GW2

The main reason I pushed forward to the end of Path of Fire's story so quickly was to get my griffon mount. That's not to suggest the griffon is a reward for finishing the storyline. It's not. Would that it were so simple.

No, completion of the main story is merely the prerequisite to open the first Collection that begins a sequence of what any other MMO would call "quests". And they are quests; of course they are.

Seriously, at this point in GW2's development the insistence on avoiding the Q word is nothing less than a fetish. The "Achievement" list is the quest journal, the events window in the upper right corner of the screen is the quest tracker, anyone asking questions in map or guild chat talks about "quests". Only Anet themselves cling to the tattered fig-leaf that supposedly hides the all too plain fact that in this respect at least their game did not break any molds or shatter any paradigms. Rather, after a brief and huffy bid for individuality, it turned around and meekly followed the herd, pretending it wanted to go that way all along.

The Griffon is the fifth of four Mounts in the expansion. Its existence was kept under wraps throughout the short beta and never mentioned in the PR blitz leading up to launch. Once the expansion went Live the existence of the Griffon mount remained a secret for, oh, nearly a day. Inside a week twenty-five thousand players owned one.

I had to wait a little longer than that but I have one now. In theory my quest (yes, I'm going to call it that) should have begun when I came across one of the clues that only begin to appear when your account gets flagged as Story Complete. The appearance of mysterious items in your loot, things like "A Strange Feather" or "A Strange Pellet of Bones and Fur" is supposed to lead you to Beastmaster Ghazal in the Garden of Sebhorin in Vabbi and thence to the Remains of the Last Spearmarshall, a talking corpse on a plateau, where the whole thing really kicks off.

In practice, since I already knew about the mount and the quest from numerous discussions in both guild and map chat, I didn't wait for the feather to drop. Instead I called up Dulfy's truly excellent guide and went straight to the fallen spearmarshal.

I didn't think to note down exactly how long the whole questline took to finish but I did it in several sessions across most of the week so it must have lasted several hours. I imagine it would have taken a lot longer without the guide to follow but the in-game instructions are reasonably clear and once you get the feel for the kind of places the eggs are hidden it's not exceptionally difficult to predict where you're likely to find them.

I have previously described the Path of Fire expansion as one giant jumping puzzle, which is kind of true and kind of not. It would probably be more accurate to describe the entirety of the open world covered by the five new maps as one giant Vista. There's little need for the kind of precision, dexterity or nerve sometimes required to complete GW2's official Jumping Puzzles but doing almost anything, anywhere, requires the kind of loose scramble previously confined to filling out those little map flags.

It turns out that suits me fine. I always loved Vistas. I've loved climbing in MMOs since the days early in the century when I discovered you could scramble across the roofs of Felwithe. There used indeed to be almost a cult of climbers within MMOs, people who would spend hours trying to find ways to reach places the developers never intended them to find, just so they could take screenshots and post them on forums to prove they'd done it.

That kind of organic, geographical, architectural exploration seems to me to be fully in tune with both the spirit and the history of the genre in a way designated Jumping Puzzles are not. Incorporating climbing into a quest seems fair and proper, whereas insisting on completion of an actual JP very much would go very much against the grain.

The many eggs you need to collect for the Griffon quest are placed atop pillars and cliffs that require some thought and ingenuity to reach. I loved it. Even with the guide to follow it necessitated a deal of creative thinking and puzzle-solving. Perfect explorer content in other words. Just as I enjoyed the Ascended Weapon quests in Heart of Thorns a lot more than I appreciated the main story quest, so I had a deal more fun getting my Griffon than following the plot that led to my being able to begin the quest in the first place. It was also in quest of my Griffon that I began, grudgingly, to learn to rely on my lesser mounts.

Path of Fire is an expansion designed around a single feature: Mounts. They are required in a much more intense and sustained manner than its predecessor Heart of Thorns ever required Gliding. It's not only that some areas are literally impossible to access without a Mount (specifically those that are accessible only via Jackal portals); it's more that although you can get to most places by clambering or gliding, it's so much easier to bounce on a bunny or glide on a skimmer; you feel you're wasting your time trying to do it any other way.

I'm getting used to the mounts but I still dislike them. I don't suffer from motion sickness using them so that's not an issue for me. I just find them annoying, clunky and badly designed. They are, however, unavoidable. It's not just the otherwise difficult to access locations: it's becoming increasingly apparent that any activity that isn't undertaken entirely alone is going to demand a mount for the simple reason that mounts move at twice the speed of a player on foot. If you don't crack out a mount you simply can't keep up. Given the size of the maps, if you try to go it on foot, by the time you arrive at an event it's likely to have ended.

I finally had to admit that to myself last night, when I joined a Bounty Train for the first time. Bounties are PoF's answer to Core Tyria's World Bosses,  legendary monsters that drop decent loot and take what would in other games be described as a pick-up raid to kill. Unlike World Bosses, Bounties spawn when players take the bounty from a board in various settlements. This makes them ideal for one of GW2's favorite activities - the zerg train.

I was criss-crossing the Elon Riverlands searching for Mastery Points when someone announced they were tagging up and starting a train to do all the bounties on the map. It took about an hour and it made for a pleasant, entertaining and profitable session. It occurred to me that what Anet have effectively done here is to refine and institutionalize a player invention, which they previously disapproved of so heartily the nerfed it into the ground, the old Champ Train. I guess that's what they mean when they say they improve the game by "iteration".

After I missed a kill because I couldn't keep up with the zerg I caved and mounted up. For general overland travel I'm leaning towards using the Jackal. It's small, it doesn't lurch about and the triple-portal zips it forward at incredible speed. The Raptor yaws and sways like a yacht in a gale, the Springer is useless for anything but going straight up and the Skimmer gets stuck on hip-height ledges. The jackal it is.

For now but not for ever. The unmastered griffon is of limited use for ground travel, launching itself  in short hops then falling back to earth like one of those failed nineteenth-century attempts at powered flight. Once I have all those Masteries done, however, it will be tantamount to a fully functioning flying mount, as you can see in this lovely video.

Lest I give a false impression, I should emphasize there's a lot more to the Griffon quest than just collecting eggs. You have to visit all five maps, complete some specific Events, some of which can't be soloed, some of which have their own pre-reqs. You also need to complete two Hearts on each map to open the vendors, from each of whom you need to buy an item that costs 25 gold, giving the Griffon a monetary cost of 250 gold, which, in GW2, is not pocket change.

All that done you then have to complete an instance set in Kormir's Library, familiar from the main story but now overrun with demons seeking to reclaim it for Abaddon. Dauntingly, you need to kill ten Elites to get ten keys to open ten chests. There's a lot of angst about this on the forums because Elites can be a tough ask solo but I found it to be easy and enjoyable. I also found the chests easy to find. I only had to refer to Dulfy's guide once.

Finally, when you return to the fallen spearmarshal, a boss mob spawns and there's a big fight. To my considerable surprise it's fun and it lasts about as long as a fight should before wearing out its welcome.

All in all I found the Griffon quest to be just about ideally tuned for my personal tastes, preferences and abilities. There's a particular sweet spot for GW2 content that this exemplifies, along with the Caladbolg quest and the HoT Ascended Weapons collections. Curiously, this is also the content that comes with some of the rewards that I find most desirable. I wonder if the same team is behind the design of all of them?

The Griffon quest is definitely the most fun I've had in Path of Fire so far. Now it's back to the steady work of finding those Mastery points and filling out that experience bar. Which, if I'm honest, is pretty good fun too.

Onwards and, eventually, upwards!


  1. It's going to take a while before I can earn the griffon, mostly because I only have 150-something gold to my name. I've been saving hard from my casual play and dailies, and almost cried when the Jackal set me back again when it cost me 20 gold. *sigh*

    I'm also having no luck getting the legendary bounties done. I heard one called, but by time time I got there, it was long dead. I'm super shy, so shouting on map chat for help is stressful, and I don't know how likely it is that anyone will respond.

    I'm getting pulled back to FFXIV due to the new patch content, but still trying to make sure I at least get dailies done in GW2. I really want this mount one day!

    1. Pull open LFG every so often and scan the PoF zones for anyone announcing a bounty train. You can just join the squad, right click on the commander to zone into their instance and follow the tag. Chances are good they'll hit a legendary bounty sooner rather than later.

    2. I need to do a whole post on LFG in GW2 some day. I think it's the best implementation I've ever seen and yet it's so underpublicized I bet most people playing barely know it exists. Map-hopping (instances of the same map that is) has been a big part of GW2 since launch but it gets little to no publicity - it barely gets mentioned but it can complete transform your experience of the game.


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