Wednesday, July 29, 2020

On The Rise: GW2

The latest instalment of Guild Wars 2's Icebrood Saga went live yesterday, around about teatime, my time. I was at home (aren't I always, these days?) so I could have played it right away. A few years back I'd have been waiting in game, eagerly watching for the update message so I could log out, grab the patch and get back in as fast as possible to pick up where we'd left off last time.

Long, long time since I've felt like that. Instead I carried on playing EverQuest. I guess in some ways that could be considered quite encouraging for ArenaNet. I'm sure they'd be pretty chuffed to have a few thousand players left in 2033 who still prefer grinding out progress in their game as it reaches the age EQ is now rather than jump onto something new in a game that's a dozen years their junior.

And maybe they will, because against all the odds GW2 is improving. I really didn't think it would happen but I can't deny it now it has. For whatever reason, the death spiral the game seemed to be locked in has been broken. For the fifth consecutive episode (counting the Prelude) the Icebrood Saga gives solid entertainment.

I do like a ley line. And they work, too. I tried them.
So far I've only done the storyline part. It took me about as long as usual. I didn't time it - always a sign I'm having fun - but I think I started before two o' clock this afternoon and I finished just after five pm, so about three hours. Pretty much on par.

I'd love to go into details but there's not a huge amount I could say without throwing out spoilers right and left. It's a very "story" episode with a lot of talking and more than one "revelation" or "surprise" or "plot twist" or whatever you'd like to call it.

I'm of the opinion that even mentioning a story has a plot twist is a spoiler in itself so I'm not going any farther than that. I'll just say that whatever it is that I'm not talking about I definitely didn't see it coming, that I did go "Wow! That just happened?" at least once and that anything unexpected that may have taken place made one hell of a lot more sense than that time Aurene ate Joko.

Yes, and I bet it won the Snaff Prize, didn't it?

Yes, we have taken a step up. I'm not making any great claims. It may be only the step that leads from gibberish to generic but at least we're heading in the right direction. And as generic fantasy storylines go I've seen plenty that were less interesting, less imaginative and less amusing than this one.

I did find it amusing. I don't think I laughed out loud at any point, more a wry smile, but I'm fairly sure there were a couple of times when I would have lol'd, if we'd only had voice acting in play. Once again the pandemic has silenced our cast of grumbling, huffing, growling misfits and I'm now prepared to say that I definitely miss the vocals.

The narrative itself is far from humorous, it has to be admitted; the usual dire forebodings of existential doom, peppered about with violence, betrayal and malefice. Whoever's wielding the pen, though, has their tongue quite firmly tucked. I look forward to hearing the irony and the sarcasm as ladled out by practiced actors.

The Commander loses patience with being asked to present his credentials, yet again.
Given the name of the episode, Jormag Rising, it's not much of a spoiler to reveal the titular character makes an eventual appearance. Or, at least, some of them does. The old head-through-the-wall trick. Seen that one before.

What is new is Jormag's pronoun of choice. In the coda, a debriefing with Aurene at her lair in the Eye of the North, the ice dragon is referred to consistently and exclusively as "they". Whether this is new practice I'm not sure but I can't recall the Norn referring to their arch-nemesis in like fashion.

I was sufficiently curious about this to google it. Jormag has, it seems, tentatively been identified as non-binary for some time. There's a lengthy discussion on the subject on the GW2 wiki. If there was any doubt, I'd say this episode firmly puts it to rest.

Technically this is a spoiler. Good luck working out how.
Of course, as the discussion also suggests, "It's unclear whether Elder Dragons even have sex or gender identity at all." I'm not sure how far assigning pronouns to such enigmatic, fictional entities progresses the culture but I thought it was a nice touch, all the same.

As for the gameplay, I won't repeat myself (much) from what I said about all the previous episodes of the Saga, save to say that this one managed to find my sweet spot even more surely. The difference between the set piece fights in the Icebrood Saga and those in the previous two or three seasons of the Living Story reminds me of that between a pillow fight and being beaten to death with an iron bar. Personally, I'd go with the pillows. Pillow fights are fun.

There is, naturally, a new map or, I should say, the second half of last episode's new map, Drizzlewood Coast. I haven't explored it beyond the minimal amount required by the story but it looks as good as we've come to expect.

Rytlock says what we're all thinking. Again.
It includes another map-wide meta intended to emulate the World vs World experience without any of that distasteful PvP nonsense. I haven't tried it yet but the last one wasn't at all bad so I look forward to joining a squad and following a tag at some point. Although since I do, in fact, play and enjoy the actual WvW experience, which remains lively, I'm not sure I'll be doing it more than once or twice.

All in all, then, another successful and enjoyable episode. It's very pleasing to be able to say nice things about the game I've played for all these years. Not before time. Just makes me wish the third expansion was less than a couple of years away.

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