Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A Vision Sent From The Past

Yesterday's official announcement of the already-leaked Guild Wars 2 update, Visions of the Past: Steel and Fire, threw me for something of a loop. What exactly is it?

I notice there's no specific mention of the Living Story/World or of the Icebrood Saga. This doesn't appear to be the next instalment of... anything. It's more a ragbag collection of odd ends.

If it has any theme or structure it would seem to be about looking backwards while glancing ahead. Part of the update focuses on fleshing out one of the least appealing players in the ongoing storyline, the uncharismatic cypher that is Ryland Steelcatcher. He suffers from being the offspring of two far more interesting characters, Rytlock Brimstone and Crecia Stoneglow and he certainly could do with some help if he's to ever going to stand alone.

Someone at ArenaNet must have faith in him, though, because Ryland is the peg on which they've chosen to hang public awareness and acceptance of the new Visions concept. It's a mechanic that will be all too wearyingly familiar to veteran players of other MMORPGs, where having your character stuffed into a cosplay version of some familiar NPC has long been a fallback position for developers with more interest in promoting their own creations than facilitating ours.

I do sometimes get the impression that a significant proportion of the ever-diminishing subset of GW2 players who still care about the plot don't have much experience of or interest in other MMORPGs. For them, this may come as a welcome new experience.

For the rest of us, I suspect it will just turrn out to be another of the usual "learn five new skills while we set you on fire" keymashing farragos we've suffered through too many times already in Living Story instances, only this time we'll all be dressed as pantomime cats, but hey, who knows, maybe ANet will find some way to make it work.I reserve the right to be grudgingly impressed, should the occasion arise.

The rest of the update looks potentially more enjoyable, although I stress "potentially". Given the game presumably relies almost entirely on cash shop sales to surrvive, let alone prosper, ANet's unwillingness to monetize what would undoubtedly become a major revenue stream in fully customizeable housing remains a source of puzzlement. Instead, they prefer to lurk in the dismal shadow of home makeover shows by offering us upgradeable NPC bases.

This time we get to fit out the Eye Of The North, an instance that originally served as a pre-launch incentive but which now acts as a lair for the friendly (?) dragon, Aurene. I haven't managed to summon up the enthusiasm to click my portal stone and find out just how the new version dovetails with the previous Hall of Monuments. Maybe that will change with the March update. Or more likely it won't if the last upgradeable lair is anything to go by. I haven't visited the Sunspear cave, the name of which I've completely forgotten, since the week it appeared.

Then there's a "Public Mission", which I think is a new sub-category of "things to keep people logging in". The brief description reads "Meet Ryland Steelcatcher’s companions and accompany them on a high-stakes mission to battle the Ancient Forgeman." As yourself, I am guessing, rather than zipped into yet another cat suit or while play-acting as Ryland himself.

Since "your job is to blow stuff to smithereens with a cutting-edge charr tank", however, it's entirely possible you won't need to be bothered with a character model at all, let alone your own class abilities, which will presumably be replaced by a big red button marked "Fire". Well, we can hope.

The only thing that puzzles me about this is what makes it "Public". Will the five charr in Ryland's warband be accompanied by a full armored division as a squad of fifty players, all driving charr tanks, crush all before them in their headlong charge for loot and glory? Or is it some kind of ten-person Strike mission? In which case, what's "public" about that?

Dunno. And, frankly, don't care. As of this writing I have yet to even try a Strike mission. Mrs Bhagpuss gave up on the Icebrood Saga after the Prelude. We both still log in every day but it wouldn't make much difference if nothing new was ever added again because everything we do has been in the game for many, many years.

Some of it since Living Story Season One, in fact, to offer an inelegant segue into the final, most intriguing element of Visions of the Past, the return of "four story missions from the first season of Living World for the first time ever!" This was the part I found both the most welcome and the most confusing.

Although I had some reservations about it at the time, a quick dip into the archives here confirms that mostly I enjoyed the first season as it happened. My affection for it has grown over the years, partly through the inevitable nostalgia of the passing of time but mostly because of how much less I enjoyed each subsequent season, which made the first look better and better all the time.

The thing I mainly liked about Season One, though, was the chaotic surge of the massive-scale open world events. I loved the manic waypointing, the hysteria in General Chat, the rampaging zergs, the wild, howling desperate frenzy of it all. It seemed then and seems now to exemplify the first two letters in the acronym of the genre: Massively Multiple.

I'd almost forgotten there were instances as well - and I don't believe there ever were any "Missions", that being a term added to the game in latter years. Whatever you want to call them, someone's found four to bring back for a very belated encore.

The puff reads "Get to know Rox and Braham, face Scarlet’s toxic forces, and remember how far Canach’s come in his time with you." That rings some bells. I recall the one where we first meet Rox in the North Nolan Nursery and one involving Braham in Cragstead. Both of those have been in the game as visitable maps ever since so I guess now we'll be able to re-run the original conversations and combats as well.

Cannach's Lair has, I think, been inaccessible since Season One. It involved bombs and traps, I remember that much. I even wrote a guide for it, which could come in useful. I wonder if I'll get any fresh hits when the update goes live?

As for "face Scarlet's toxic forces", that could mean anything. We fought them for the best part of two years, on and off. I bet it means The Toxic Tower, though. I was very glad to see the back of that in 2013. I have no wish ever to see it again although curiosity will probably drag me in for one last look.

If Anet are going to carry on down this line, what I'd really like to see brought back are the big ticket events from later in the Scarlet storyline. The three that would definitely get me logging in for nostalgic fun and genuine entertainment would be Battle For Lion's Arch, Marionette and the final showdown with Scarlet herself in her mothership.

The Scarlet finale was instanced to begin with so you'd imagine that wouldn't be hard to revive. Lion's Arch was a full map replacement but I don't see why it couldn't be revisited as a full map instance. Marionette, at the time the best event the game had seen and still among the best even now, took place in the open world but could quite easily be turned into an instance, you'd think, seeing Scarlet staged it in what amounts to an arena-sized enclosed space.

It is, at least, an intriguing development. I look forward to seeing where, if anywhere, it goes from here. It also occurs to me that this could be the closest Anet get to having their share of the increasingly popular, mainstream and profitable Progression and Classic Server pie, currently being gobbled down by the likes of Daybreak, Blizzard, Jagex and Funcom.

It never does to understimate the public's hunger for a juicy slice of their own past.


  1. IMO Sun's Refuge deserves returning to, if you haven't done Full House achievement. It's a really good motivation to explore Jahai Bluffs with several short stories on top of it.

    1. I should take a look. I think I still have a bunch of hand-ins for someone there, too.

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