Friday, September 20, 2019

It's All Good: GW2

This morning was... surprising. I logged in after breakfast with no particular plan in mind. My mouse pointer dithered over the EverQuest II icon for a moment as I thought about doing the new panda quest, then moved on.

What I wanted to do was play WoW Classic but if I knew if I started before nine in the morning I might end up playing for twelve hours straight and I wouldn't want Tobold to worry. I considered getting a blog post out before playing anything but the ones I have in mind are likely to be epics and I wasn't quite ready for that level of effort.

As I often do at this point, I decided to run my Guild Wars 2 dailies while I let my thoughts settle. GW2 dailies are predictable and generally quick, plus I hate to miss out on that two gold per account per day.

I logged my primary account in and found the dailies were exceptionally easy. I'd finished all three in not much more than five minutes. Since I was on the account that had opened the new map I was raving about the other day, I thought I might as well go and have a wander around.

Four and a half hours later I logged out for a belated lunch, having completed the entirety of the Bound by Blood Prologue. It's too early for any kind of detailed review because spoilers but my capsule review is this:

Best "Living World" episode for as long as I can remember.

I really have almost nothing negative to say about it at all. Let's have some bullet points about why that is, without spoiling the extremely good plot.

  • It's paced very well

  • There are absolutely no horrible, tedious extended fights.

  • At no time do you have to learn a set of fatuous new skills that replace your real ones.

  • Nothing requires you to do a thing, then do it again, then do it a third time to be absolutely sure.

  • The story is genuinely interesting, especially if you like the Charr race and their politics.

  • Not only is it interesting but it's coherent and it makes sense!

  • A couple of regular cast members make a long overdue reappearance.

  • At no point (that I noticed) does anyone say anything wildly out of character.

  • The voice acting is good to very good.

  • The dialog is significantly better than it used to be (although it has generally been improving since the big shake up last year).

  • There are a bunch of new characters, all of whom appear to have actual personalities.

  • Every location is visually sumptuous. I know GW2's Art Dept. always knock it out of the park but this time that tired re-used assets feel is wholly absent.

  • The new map doesn't just look good - it plays well. It doesn't have the stale "Only here for the Meta" feel of so many recent LS maps.

  • There are two dozen Events and they vary widely in style and kind. You can easily complete the number necessary for the story by doing only the ones you like.
Other than the sudden leap in quality, perhaps the most surprising thing about Bound By Blood is that, despite being promoted as a "prologue" to the real first instalment of the "Icebrood Saga", it seems to have more content and take longer to play through than many recent Living World full episodes. I did take a lot of screenshots (over 60 this morning, most of which I can't use because of spoilers) and did a fair bit of exploring, but even so I'm absolutely certain Bound By Blood is at the very least no shorter than the average LS4 entry.

I'm aware that my enthusiasm is in part driven by the change of location and focus. I find Ascalon and The Shiverpeaks a clear order of magnitude more appealing than anywhere we've been sent since before Heart of Thorns four years ago. I also find the Charr the most interesting of all the races. Only the Asura come close and they are definitely in second place.

Bound By Blood (a very clever title, as it turns out) goes all in on Charr politics with a hefty side-order of Charr culture. I loved it. Rytlock, my favorite GW2 character, has a starring role and, as always, makes the most of it, but all the other Charr with speaking parts are memorable characters too.

For non-Charr fans, there's quite a lot of Braham, mostly in his comedy sidekick persona rather than his spoiled brat mode. He's arguably a little over-used but I enjoyed his routines. Gorrik has a smaller but also quite funny supporting role, with a key scene that had me genuinely worried for his safety - not to say survival. Fortunately the "kill a much-loved character" trope, over-use of which by previous writers has drawn a good deal of criticism in the past, stays in the locker this time. I guess that's a spoiler. Sorry!

By the time the prologue came to its unexpected conclusion I found myself very much on board with the new direction. For the first time since... well I can't remember exactly when, but it could conceivably be as far back as the death of Scarlet... I find myself actively looking forward to finding out what happens next.

My only worry is that Bound By Blood is so good compared to most LW episodes precisely because it's a "prologue". That the writers have deliberately slowed the pacing and concentrated on the lore and the characters rather than the set-piece boss fights (which I loathe) only as a beat before a return to relentless, mindless "action".

I'm going to choose to believe that's not the case. That lessons have finally been learned. That we at last have a writing team that knows how to write and developers who know how to fit the necessary action to the limited skills of what is probably the most casual playerbase in major MMORPGS.

How long we have to wait to find out very much remains to be seen. ANet are keeping their cards very close to their breastplates this time. No talk of bi-weekly updates like Season One or three month cadences like Season 4. This time we get a "saga", not chapters or episodes. That could be any format - or none.

I just hope when the next content drop arrives I can come back here and be as positive about it as have been today.

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