Wednesday, January 20, 2021

I Run Missions

The latest instalment in Guild Wars 2's Icebrood Saga, which I previewed somewhat sarcastically just one week ago, dropped last night. It seems to be called either "Champions" or "Power" or "Primordus Rising" or very possibly "Icebrood Saga: Champions: Power: Primordus Rising". I admit I've lost track of the current naming convention.

Whatever it's called, it's alright. I'm not sure I'd go much further than that but I've played through the new story content and I didn't not enjoy it. It took the traditional two and a half hours, on the nose, only with more fighting and less standing around chatting than usual. 

The format is different to what we've been used to but I suspect not to what we're going to have to get used to in the future. After years and years of muddling around with various combinations of open world and instanced content, none of which ever seemed to suit enough people for ArenaNet to stick with any of them, we've arrived at something called "Dragon Response Missions". 

Theese are repeatable, instanced sequences of events that can be done either solo or in groups of up to five players, either premades or put together by the game, as you prefer. They seem to tick more boxes than most of the previous content delivery systems while avoiding some of the most egregious pitfalls. They also bundle up into a relatively saleable package for the Gem Store so they would seem to have a better chance of sticking around than most of the gimmicks ANet have tried over the last eight and a half years.


And I have to say, somewhat grudgingly, that they do work. I'd vastly prefer to have this content presented as it was in Season One, as time-limited events in open world maps, hanging around only as long as it takes for the next chapter to arrive but I accept that ship sailed long ago. A vociferous faction within the playerbase hates anything that's not forever and one-time content is uncommercial since it costs the same to produce as repeatable material but can't be repackaged and resold.

I was surprised at just how many DRMs (Dragon Response Missions. You'd already forgotten, hadn't you?) I had to do this time. Six of them. At least, I think it was six. Wait, no, I mean I know it was six as in that's how many I did. I'm just a little vague on whether maybe the first couple were ones I hadn't done from last chapter. I am finding it hard to keep all this stuff straight in my head these days.

Now I check the press release it does indeed look as though the first two missions I did, one down some cave and the other... no, it's no good, I already forgot where the other was and I only did it last night... aren't part of Power at all. The official four this time around seem to be the ones in Fields of Ruin, Thunderhead Peaks, Lake Doric, and Snowden Drifts.

That might explain why I noticed a significant jump in quality when I got to Ebonhawke. (That's the Fields of Ruin one for those who've never played GW2 and indeed for those that have but don't care to waste brain cells on Tyrian trivia like what city is in which map). The dialog and plot didn't change all that much but the mechanics of the fights became considerably more interesting, suggesting a different team might have had a hand in designing them.


This is the really surprising thing about the new chapter. The fights are genuinely enjoyable. It's been a while since I last thought that about a story instance. Sure, they have been getting much better but that's "better" on a scale that begins at "tedious" somewhere back in Season Two and floors out at "unbearable" in the middle of Season Four before slowly climbing back up to the dizzy heights of "tolerable" and even "okay"during the Icebrood Saga. 

Or something like that. Honestly, I've blanked a lot of it. Or tried to. Anyway, the instanced fights used to be something I dreaded and now they're not. In fact, on this latest evidence, they might even be something I could find myself looking forward to. I never thought I'd say that.

I'm not saying I'm going to do what I'm supposed to do and start repeating these missions over and over until the next set drops. Life is neither long enough nor dull enough for that to sound like a good option. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that I might do them again on another character, though. Maybe even more than one.  

It sounds like damning with the faintest of praise but it really isn't. These instances truck along. They don't waste a whole lot of time. Something's always happening but none of it takes too long. Well, okay, the bit with the dragon spears did drag on a little but I thik that had more to do with most of my pickup group spending more time lying down than standing up.

There was a quite a bit of that in the final instance in Snowden Drifts, too, although that group was a lot more capable. Just had too many glass cannons. I was very glad I was doing the missions on my heal-specced druid, the one I always use for story content. He's hard to down let alone kill, which came in handy for getting everyone else who can actually do more damage than a kitten on valium back up off the floor. It's not always all about the dps, even in GW2. Okay, admittedly it usually is...

I'm a little in two minds about how the new direction approaches narrative. Traditionally, the story part of the Living Story has been delivered in lengthy scenes where the player and any number of important NPCs stand around and tell each other the plot. At inordinate length. Sometimes the PC will be given something to do, like in that party we had back in Beetle Manor. Often they'll get to chip in now and again. Basically, though, it's sit back, relax, watch and listen.

With the missions it's more like trying to hold a conversation with three people while jogging through heavy traffic. Everyone's shouting over everyone else, there's a lot of background noise and you only have one ear on the conversation because you have to watch out for things that might kill you.

It's fortunate the entire dialog gets printed in the chat box because I would have missed whole chunks of plot without it. As it was, appreciating the subtle nuances of the voice actors (whom we're all very glad to see (or hear) back at work, I'm sure) took up most of my attention. Having everyone talking during the action sequences certainly works dramatically. I'm just not sure it works practically. Maybe I need to adjust my audio settings to prefer speech over the sounds of stuff being set on fire.


And there's a lot of stuff being set on fire. Either that or frozen solid. That's the theme - fire and ice. Believe it or not, I'd kind of missed the memo about Primordus being Tyria's official Elder FIRE Dragon. I'd always had him pegged as "Earth" or "Stone" for some reason. Possibly because he comes with attached dwarves and dwarves always suggest solidity and earthiness, not fiery armageddon.

I did know Jormag was the Ice dragon, of course. Can't really miss that. So it makes sense in a mythological way that they're twins. Twins who hate each other and want to kill each other. Or at least Jormag wants to kill Primordus. If Primordus has expressed an opinion I must have missed it. I don't think he's spoken yet.

As you can probably tell, this recent episode has re-onboarded me a little with the storyline. I do find the whole elder dragon thing quite intriguing. There were some pointed conversations on the nature of dragons between Ryland, Caithe, Braham and the Commander. Kas might have chipped in, too.

Oh yes, the gang's all here. Rytlock grunted a couple of times but he took a back seat for once since he was on Logan's home turf. Marjory and Taimi had cameos and even Gorrik showed his face although he didn't get any lines. Still, he's doing a lot better than Zoja. Seriously, recast her role already, don't just keep ghosting her. She's the greatest living Asuran! How would she not be there, telling everyone they were doing things all wrong?

Marjory's not much better off. Clearly no-one in the writers' room has clue one what to do with her, which is ironic seeing she's supposed to be a detective. Whatever happened to that, anyway? Taimi, once so over-exposed half the playerbase would cheerfully have drop-kicked her off Rata Sum, had one short scene, which she managed to steal by coming over as excitable as a dog in a sausage factory. For someone with just a few months to live (Remember that plotline? No, neither do the writers, apparently) she seemed remarkably chipper. 

Everyone seems remarkably chipper given the situation but then I guess we all know something about that these days. There's always some bleedover, isn't there?

All in all it was a creditable effort, I thought. I had fun.

I think there may have been a bunch of other non-story stuff in the update too but you'll have to wait for someone else to tell you all about that. Oh, wait, no-one else writes about this game any more, do they?

I guess that'll change when the expansion lands. For a couple of weeks, at least. And it'll take a full expansion to redirect attention this way because for sure the Living Story doesn't have much impact outside the installed base any more. 

Tough business.

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