Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Good, The Bag and The Ugly : GW2

So, here's the question. Did the latest chapter of GW2's Living Story live up to the promise of that trailer?

Hmm. Yes and no. Leaving aside the inevitable problem of raised expectations, in some respects "A Bug in the System" is certainly one of ArenaNet's better efforts. In others....not so much.

I'm trying to avoid spoilers but the format of these things is so very well established by now - not to say ritualized - that there's not that much to spoil. Some traveling, some banter, a lot of large battles, a couple of boss fights, a new map with a new currency, the whole thing wrapped up in two to three hours. This is also one of the episodes with a lot of "puzzles" and non-combat sections, of which we tend to get one or two each Season.

As Telwyn observes, the Boss fights aren't as awful as they could be. The first boss is incredibly tedious, as about 90% of the comments in the traditional Living Story Boss Fight Complaint Thread confirm. It's just a massive hit point sponge in a confined space most of which is on fire most of the time. The usual, in other words. I thought it had outstayed its welcome after about two minutes but it hung around for a lot longer than that. I didn't find it hard other than on my patience. Mrs Bhagpuss loathed it.

I hesitate to say it but the second boss I almost enjoyed. There was a lot more room to move, we went to several different locations, which helped keep things fresh, and even though everything was on fire all the time again, nothing seemed to burn.

The puzzles were very straightforward. I solved them all quickly without needing to look anything up on Google, which was just as well because no-one had had time to write any guides or post any videos, not even Dulfy.

Most could be brute forced anyway. It seems almost to be expected. One of the puzzles even defaults to an option labeled "Brute Force". In the part where you're supposed to sneak, Mrs Bhagpuss ignored instructions and just killed everything, which earned her an achievement.

The new map is very good. It's possibly my favorite Path of Fire map to date, probably because it looks and feels nothing like one. Geographically, it appears to be something akin to a temperate rain forest, lush, filled with lakes and waterfalls and raining all the time. Really, I've spent maybe four or five hours there now and I don't think I've seen the rain let up once. A Portuguese expatriate thanked Anet effusively on the forums for giving him a nostalgic blast of his home country and it's true that parts of it are eerily familiar to the countryside just in from the coast, south of Lisbon.

I like it enough that I'd probably have spent some time there just enjoying the ambience, but for once there are also things I want. There's one thing in particular I might even say I need: a 32 slot bag.

Large bags are a big deal in GW2. For five years the maximum size was stuck at 20 slots, then sometime last year recipes were added allowing crafters to make 24, 28 and 32 slot versions. Unfortunately, that luxury came at a corresponding cost.  A 32 slot bag comes in somewhere close to 250 gold, which in GW2 is a very great deal of money. I haven't been able to bring myself to make one yet.

A free 32-slotter is well worth making an effort to get but in this case what you have to do to get it is also relatively straightforward and quite good fun. You start with the 20-slot "Bandolier" that comes as one of the rewards for finishing the story. You can then upgrade it three times via a series of what any other MMO would call quests but GW2 calls Collections. Dulfy has the full skinny.

I've already done the first two upgrades. Mostly it was running around talking to people or doing events on the map. In part three I think there's one side trip to Elon Riverlands but apart from that it all happens in situ, doing things you'd most likely be doing already if you were there, like the meta or bounties.

As well as the bag there's another upgradeable reward for finishing the story - a back slot item. I don't particularly need another Ascended backpiece but for once this doesn't look entirely hideous. I might even not hide it if I wore it. I'll probably get that next.

Then there are the usual Ascended trinkets from the new currency vendor and various minis and suchlike from the Heart merchants. The map itself is visually delightful. It's very interesting to explore and for once you can do so in relative peace. There are hardly any of the usual cc-crazy PoF mobs that have kept me out of the rest of the expansion these last few months. It all feels much more like a "normal" map and so much better for it.

I'll keep away from the specifics of the plot for now but I have quite a lot to say about the marked change in tone. I noticed it almost immediately. It reminded me of the jarring lurch that often occurs when a new producer or script editor takes control of a long-running tv show. I don't know if there's been a change of personnel in GW2's story department but it certainly feels like it.

Rox has changed in a very literal fashion: she's played by a new voice actor who sounds absolutely nothing like the old one. This has been mildly controversial. I found it offputting. It's not that I was especially fond of the old Rox but I was used to her. Now she's someone else and it's weird. Apparently the writers want to take her character in a new direction, which kind of assumes someone thought her character had a direction to begin with. There's been precious little evidence of that in years.

Presumably Rox's new direction will involve the hitherto unheard-of tribe of Charr hippies we discover, living a peaceful life of fishing, basketweaving and storm-calling that goes entirely counter to everything previously known about the race. Perhaps she'll settle down and try to teach all those precocious cubs some manners. She was working in a nursery when we first met her, after all...

Braham also appears to have a new direction in mind. He still has the same voice but he seems to have had a bang on the head - one that's knocked some sense into him. Between episodes he's dropped 95% of the deeply unpopular brattishness he acquired at the beginning of LS3.

He makes a couple of passing references to his change of heart but everyone is too busy trying not to die to pick him up on it and the issue is neatly kicked into the long grass. There's some awkward "bonding" at the end and that seems to be that. All back to normal, everything forgiven and forgotten.

Where this leaves his obsession with Jormag I have no idea. In the file marked "bad ideas" I imagine, which seems to be where someone has decided to dump most of the inherited baggage of the last couple of years. I can't wait to see who Jory and Kas come back as. I'm betting it won't be the increasingly bizarre, dysfunctional basket cases they were both fast becoming.

All that's probably, or at least possibly, to the good. Not so the Inquest. The Inquest have always been problematic but in this chapter they cross the line into full-on unacceptable. The practices revealed in Rata Prime and the Inquest Labs come straight from the playbook of Dr. Mengele. 

This would be difficult enough from an outright evil organization but The Inquest have always been played at least partially for laughs and this is no exception. It won't wash. Nazi death camps are not a suitable setting for jokes about beaurocracy recycled from Dilbert.

Even worse, in Blish and Gorrik we have two Asurans who - in the most favorable possible light - have been complicit in nightmarish experiments on captured prisoners. Gorrik, by his own admission, has been actively involved. These two should be heading back to Pact Headquarters to be a) interrogated and b) tried for war crimes.

Instead The Commander (aka the Player Character) sets the two little psychopaths up with their erstwhile college friend and current hand-waving apologist Taimi to do some more experimenting - this time for our team. No! Just No!

I may get into that in more detail when spoilers aren't such an issue. For now, to sum up, I liked the gameplay elements of this episode and the basic plot is moving along nicely but as for all the stuff going on in the's all over the place! And isn't this game still rated PEGI 12? There's more horror in a couple of Inquest asides than the whole five hours of DDLC...


  1. For what it's worth, a former SWTOR writer moved to become "Narrative Designer" at ArenaNet six months ago. Considering the production pipeline for content like this, she might have had a hand in the change of direction...

    1. Interesting. As Jeromai points out below, a few of the behind-the-scenes names have changed but I definitely feel it's more than just a few new people with somewhat different individual writing styles - it seems like a complete overhaul of the narrative to me. And that, I guess, would be just why you'd employ a "narrative designer", especially one from outside the existing structure.

  2. There’s definitely been a change of guard writing/narrative-wise since Angel McCoy left. I seem to recall Matthew Medina and Michael Yichao mentioned as names involved with the newer story too; possibly all the newer inclusions have shifted the overall approach/tone somewhat.

    Admittedly, I’m just speculating with no real clue, even more so because I haven’t found any impetus to play through the new episode in a hurry. I’m full on in the throes of PoE addiction and there’s probably going to be another 2-3 months before the next episode drop anyway.

    1. Well, it's not like it's a big time commitment! You can knock it out in a couple of hours, probably. The 2-3 months thing is a major problem for me, though. Is there any other popular, narrative medium that attempts to engage an audience over such an extended timescale with such limited, discrete episodes? Imagine watching a tv show one episode at a time, four or five times a year, or reading a novel one chapter every three months.

      I'd far rather have the little "Current Events" to keep us amused for 11 months and then the entire Living Story episode as a semi-expansion once a year.

  3. It's not like the story was happy-go-lucky up to this point. We've lost many to defeat Zhaitan, many people died during Lion's Arch assault, almost all Pact fleet was wiped during assault on Mordremoth, including Eir and Trahearne, then we learn that we can't kill dragons anymore, because consequences will be far worse. That's not even including some even more brutal stuff like princess story in griffon quest, where we learn that Joko cut off her tongue, then blinded her, than killed her and awakened with minimum energy, leaving her lying around in the sanctuary for centuries in form of helpless living corpse.

    1. Well, that's true enough. It's always been an uncomfortable mix of knockabout humor and grimdark. I somehow missed that delightful part about Joko in the griffin quest. He's a real charmer. I find the gleeful adoption of Joko by a segment of the playerbase quite disturbing.

    2. I doubt the whole 'Praise Joko' meme has ever been something more than sheer irony. I've never played Nightfall, so can't tell if people seriously liked him, but in abridged story I've read on wiki he seemed to be a 'necessary evil' guy. Probably even that would've changed if released Elona Beyond instead of focusing on GW2.


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