Friday, May 17, 2019

Playing Dead : GW2

Let's get this straight from the start: this post has SPOILERS. If you haven't played Guild Wars 2's latest Living World episode, War Eternal, and you don't care to know what happens then LOOK AWAY NOW!

Okay, now they're out of the room, we can talk.

There's a lengthy thread on the GW2 forums entitled, with admirable brevity, "Terrible Story". It's an interesting read, with many contrasting points of view, demonstrating just how very difficult it must be to keep an audience onside.

Having played through War Eternal once, probably the only time I'll do it, my overriding impression isn't of a terrible story. More a hugely wasted opportunity, compounded by the recurrence of several long-running structural problems that make everything much harder for the writers than it needs to be.

Where's Cannach when you need him?
The fundamental flaw, something that renders almost everything that has happened or will happen in GW2 ultimately meaningless, opens a gaping hole in the plot right at the beginning of the opening act. In Chapter Five, Aurene, the Scion, a young dragon on whom all future hope rests, was brutally killed. It was handled exceptionally well. In January I wrote: "I went to bed thinking about it, I dreamed about it and I woke up and thought about it some more."

Then I went on to say "Death as a concept is now so utterly, irretrievably compromised in the game that, in narrative terms, it means nothing... a well-written and well-timed death can still ring all the right response bells but once the emotions stop jangling anyone can come up with half a dozen get-out clauses in a matter of moments." Which is exactly what happened.

Care to explain how you can do it now but he couldn't do it when you ate him?

The widely-predicted resurrection arrived within seconds of the start of the latest chapter. It must have finally occurred to someone that leaving us all mooching around Aurene's horrifically impaled body emoting was coming across as a tad horrorshow. I was thinking that four months ago but never mind.

There was a bit of business about how to remove the crystals. We got on with that and as soon as the first couple came out Aurene sprang back to life. It was so completely obvious what was going to happen that I let loose one of those confirmatory "I don't believe you just did that" chuckles. I couldn't believe it but I believed it all too well.

What happened next did surprise me. Aurene spoke. Out loud, in English (or Tyrian or whatever we all speak in game). This is something she had never done before, nor shown the least sign of being able to do. Indeed there have been entire subplots that revolved around the difficulty of communicating with her without a shared language.

Oh, now you can talk!

Well, no longer. Apparently Aurene spent her dead months in language school because now she speaks idiomatically perfect English with a soft, high-pitched tone that leeches most of the emotion from everything she says.

There is absolutely no explanation for this and no-one in game expresses anything more than the very mildest interest in how it might have happened. There's not much more interest in the means of her resurrection, although at least her new-founded vocal talent does allow her to explain how it came about.

Dragons: bigger on the inside.

Of all the theories about how she might be brought back probably the most popular (most frequently cited, that is, not most well-liked) was the idea that, having eaten the Lich, Palawa Joko, in Chapter Three, Aurene would somehow acquire his powers of immortality. Bingo! Got it in one.

As far as half-assed, back of an envelope plotting goes this really takes some beating. Having been impaled, Aurene didn't immediately hop up on her own because one of the crystals was sticking through her heart and her Lich Powers were at full stretch re-healing that constantly. As soon as we pulled the thorn out of her paw, though, our puppy was all better in a moment.

Looking ahead, that leaves us with an even greater plotting problem than the general issue of no-one staying dead, ever. Aurene is now effectively both immortal and unkillable. Given what happens to her by the end of the chapter we'd damn well better hope she really is one of the good guys.

Left a bit, left a bit, right a bit... fire!

That opening set the tone for what turned out to be an uneven and deeply unsatisfying conclusion to more than a year's worth of narrative. There follows a relatively painless, mildly irritating diversion in which GW2 turns into an on rails shooter. Riding Aurene as a mount The Commander pursues the huge, wounded Crystal Dragon Kralkatorrik through The Mists in a chase that mostly ressembles a helicopter strafing a train.

The best I can say for it was that it looked spectacular for about thirty seconds and was over in a matter of minutes. It ends with one of Kralk's wings being shot off, giving me a pleasant nostalgic buzz as I remembered how The Claw's wings used to fall off when The Pact shot him out of the sky every three hours for his World Boss event, before his own boss, Jormag, found him some stronger glue so they'd stay on.

I'm never taking mushrooms again...

From there it was on to the now-traditional round of map exploration, something ANet use shamelessly in every episode as a way to stretch the plot out so it lasts more than the bare half hour they've managed to script. The new map,  as per yesterday's post, is gorgeous, if extremely familiar.

The tasks the plot requires are simple enough. The huge majority of time needed goes towards travelling from one marked location to another. I struggled a little with the controls on the borrowed Skyscale (the new Mount, whose permanent acquisition process I have yet to discover) but the learning curve was shallow and I soon had that out of the way.

And if we blow this one too we'll just keep trying 'til we get it right, okay Aurene?

From then onwards it's all downhill to the end. To cut a not-very-long and really not very interesting story short, we end up inside Kralkatorrik (yes, literally), fighting one aspect of his personality and a number of manifestations of his Torment (caused by indigestion from eating two other Elder Dragons and a God and possibly some other things I forgot).

Over the last couple of years ANet have learned a lot about these instanced fights. Yes, I still find them annoying, but in large part that's because I insist on doing Living Story on my max-heal-specced druid, who has the damage output of a sickly kitten.

Even with that self-handicap it didn't take too long this time. Most of the longueurs came from failing to understand what I was meant to be doing or just not being able to see the markers because of the incredible visual clutter.

Are you sure that's his heart?

The whole thing reminded me immensely of the final battle with Mordremoth, a similar anti-climax in which the player gets to fight some representation of the Dragon's psyche in an instance, while several armies of NPCs fight the actual dragon offscreen. That felt cheap as the climax to Heart of Thorns but HoT also had the magnificent Dragon's Stand meta-event as the real payoff. Dragonfall also has a meta where you get to fight Kralk, but seeing as he's buried in the ground with just one claw sticking out I'm not sure how dramatic that's likely to be.

Structurally, the finale hits another of GW2's major narrative problems: it's hard to a) respond emotionally and b) follow the nuances when NPCs are spouting passionate dialog while you're concentrating on staying out of a million red circles and keeping yourself alive. Aurene and Kralk had a lot of dialog, some of which seemed to revolve around their familial relationship, but most of it passed me by because I was hammering my special action key and dodge-rolling.

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. Oh, wait, that's Aurene.

Eventually it stopped. Kralk begged me to plunge my special spear into his heart and I obliged. The reward, apart from peace across Tyria, was a really strong ninety-second montage featuring all the major players looking suitably awe-struck and/or ecstatic and Aurene doing a victory fly-past before ascending into the heavens on a trail of stars.

I took a lot of screenshots and they all look amazing. Someone put the whole thing on YouTube and here it is. The good part begins at 1.20.

After which all that was left was to catch up with everyone. I wandered around the prow of the Corsair's Airship as it flew us back to Lion's Arch (where, for some unexplained reason, the chapter both begins and ends), chatting to Braham (drunk and loud), Logan and Rytlock (prepping for their bromantic adventures to come), Caithe (suitably pensive) and Taimi (hyper, in denial).

As to what happens next, I have absolutely no idea. Aurene appears to be either the start of a new era for Dragonkind or the first of a new race of Gods. She is immortal, she cannot be killed or destroyed and she has successfully integrated the powers that drove Kralkatorrik insane and tormented him seek his own execution at her hands. Er, claws. Follow that, as they say.

Hail to the new boss.

Meanwhile, I'm left wondering what happened to Marjory, Kasimir, Cannach and Zojjah, just to name a few of the extended cast now missing in (in)action. Dragon's Watch, the Guild we're all supposed to be part of, did get a couple of mentions so maybe some or all of them will make it back for Season Five.

I hope so, because, as with Scarlet, I'm only begining to appreciate them now they're not around. We used to complain about the soap opera plots but in some ways there was more to hold onto there than in these epic adventures of gods and monsters.

The hardest thing to imagine after Aurene's ascension is what Tyria needs any of the rest of us for. I suppose they'll come up with something for Season Five. Can't say I'm holding my breath to find out what.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide