Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Different Voices

This morning I played through the first two parts of Guild Wars 2's latest addition to the Icebrood Saga. Let's not get into the naming conventions of that again. 

I wanted to see the story segment with Braham. I was hoping it might be a separate option but the chapter begins with a (really quite interesting) conversation between Aurene and Jormag before segueing into the first of this update's suite of Dragon Response Missions.

I've been playing GW2 for a long, long time now. I've followed all of the main storylines. Sometimes I've been heavily invested, sometimes I could barely drag myself on. I was one of the minority who thoroughly enjoyed Scarlet's wars but I struggled through the mediocre fan service of the whole, interminable Palawa Joko farrago, including most of the core storyline of the Path of Fire expansion.

The thing is, after this much time with the cast, it all turns into the equivalent of a long-running soap opera or a sitcom that's heading into a tenth season. Hardly any of the characters make any sense if you think about the things they've done. None of the stories hold up to scrutiny. And none of that matters because you know them all so well. It's familiarity that carries you through the nonsense.

Which is why it's so famously difficult and risky to recast. 

It happens. Sometimes there's no choice. If an actor dies (or goes to jail or gets a better offer or leaves to raise a family...) it's either recast or write the character out and if it's a core character that might mean the end of the show.

It made for a sombre opening to a new season but it's one of the best episodes in the whole show.


Luke Perry, who played Fred Andrews, Archie's dad, in Riverdale, died suddenly between the end of the third season and the start of the fourth. The opening episode of the first season they shot without him is a long and very poignant eulogy. Fred was a significant character but also one the show could manage without. I don't imagine anyone thought even for a second of replacing him.

Online games with ongoing characters have some different choices to make. Obviously none of the images we see are going to change unless it's by intent. Their voices, though? Well that's a different matter altogether.

It's almost certainly easier to swap out an actor we only recognize by the sound of their voice than it is one we know by sight but "easier" isn't the same as "easy". I've lost track of how many of GW2's ever-expanding ensemble cast have changed voice actors over the last eight years. I do remember Rox's voice changing completely but other than that I'd have to look it up. 

I do know that my male Asura, with whom I do all the Living Story stuff and whose voice I hear more than anyone's, still sounds the same as he always did. It would be very weird if that changed but if the game lasts another eight years I imagine it might.

Not up to your usual standard, Canach.

I'm pretty certain I would have noticed that Canach's voice had changed even if I hadn't already heard about it. He's far and away one of the game's most distinctive presences, one of those characters that make a scene worth struggling through an annoying boss fight for. 

Of course, it might have been hard to be sure at first, given the increasingly irritating way that Living Story dialog plays out theese days, in the middle of a firefight. I get that it's meant to be the equivalent of action heroes swapping witty badinage between bullets but I find it all but impossible to listen to the quips and hit the targets at the same time. If it wasn't for the chatbox recording everything that's said so I can read it back afterwards I'd scarcely know who said what to whom most of the time.

Even so, I could tell Canach wasn't quite his usual, acerbic self. He seemed a little flat. Subdued. 

Turns out he's been replaced. His originator and long-standing voice actor, John DiMaggio, whose take on the character was accurately described by an ANet rep as "urbane and hilarious" has been replaced by Matthew Mercer. This change brings with it a number of problems.

I had no idea who Matt Mercer might be. Never heard of him. I found out by reading the forum thread on the topic that he's well-known from the Critical Role web series, something I've heard of many times but never watched. Not only that but he also voices the male norn player-character in Guild Wars 2.

Braham's the only male Norn I really pay any attention to.


I don't have any male norn characters so that's unlikely to be a problem for me but I can imagine it might be for someone who finds themselves listening to Matt Mercer having a conversation with Matt Mercer. I'm sure he varies the voice enough to make them distinct but from my years of listening to audio books I'd have to say you can always tell it's the same actor doing all the voices, no matter how well they're doing it.

Based on the forum reaction, the change hasn't gone down particularly well but that's only to be expected. Criticism of ArenaNet is muted because the reason given is "clash of scheduling", a polite way of saying they couldn't get John DiMaggio to do it any more. 

That puts them in the position of either having to recast or to let the character lie fallow. Or kill them off, of course, which is always a popular option in genre fiction. 

Canach isn't really a key figure in the plot so dropping him would be unproblematic from a practical point of view but he is very much a fan favorite so it would also be a poor commercial choice. The question is, would players rather have a bland Canach or no Canach at all? 

It's not a moot point. We already had the same thing happen to one fan favorite: Zojja. She was gravely injured at the end of the first expansion, Heart of Thorns, but so were half the cast. Everyone else got better. Even Eir made a brief comeback appearance and she was dead!

Zojja has never been seen again. I'm not a hundred per cent sure the reason has ever been confirmed but once again it's widely believed to be scheduling issues. Zojja was voiced by the very much in-demand Felicia Day, who almost certainly had more lucrative offers to take up. Plus she's just become a mother. That'll cut into your work schedule.

I can't remember what the original Rox sounded like but who could forget those eyes?

The continued absence of such a popular character with no in-game explanation is something of a running sore in GW2. Every time any rested character returns there's a flurry of "and what about Zojja?" threads on the forums. She's gone but very much not forgotten.

Recasting a significant character like Canach does indeed demand the question "and what about Zojja?". If an interpretation as definitive and accepted as DiMaggio's can be replaced, what's so unique about Day's short-tempered Asuran? The third comment on the thread titled "New Canach VA?" is the equally succinct "Zojja next?"

It would be nice to be able to say that's the only voice acting controversy in the new update but it very definitely is not. There's also the tricky question of how a Tengu should talk. 

I never liked the tengu. They're big, annoying birds with thick quasi-Russian accents and a bad attitude. I always found them both abrasive and borderline offensive. Imagine, then, how strange it was to be greeted in the first of the new Dragon Missions by a tengu voiced like an excitable American tween.

Or, as one commenter on the forum thread brusquely titled "Tengu Voice - Dislike"  put it "sounds like a skritt in disguise". That's all too accurate. When the character began speaking she was well out of my line of sight and I really did think it was a skritt I was hearing.

Other commenters compare her voice to various Asuran and Quaggan characters already in the game and the one thing all of those have in common is exceptional (some might say excessive) cuteness. This new tengu, Kilidris Sparrowhawk, is undeniably cute, something I don't believe any tengu has ever been.

Just die, already!
She also gets some very interesting dialog. When the insanely tedious sub-boss fight on the bridge is finally finished you get the option to ask her several questions and I would advise anyone interested in the politics and culture of Tyria to take that option. 

We already know that the tengu are going to feature in the third expansion and this would very much appear to be the beginning of some re-structuring and re-positioning to make that a more palatable option to those of us who can't stand the blasted birds.

How that's going to go down with their legion of fans is another matter. It does at least make me feel a little more optimistic about one aspect of the End of Dragons experience. Whenever the hell it arrives.Seriously, isn't it about time we got some indications of a timescale on that?

As for the rest of the storyline in the current update... it wasn't at all bad. Plenty to chew on. Maybe I'll get into it when I've finished the rest. 

That Braham, eh? He doesn't get any smarter, does he?


  1. Mercer's range of voices is usually pretty varied, so I would be surprised if he can't do a fairly good job imitating the old voice actor. Seems like the most common comment is that it mostly lacks the snark factor.

    That sounds like poor understanding of the character, which is understandable as I doubt he plays GW2 to the extent of grasping the essence of Canach, and poor direction.

    Who knows, I haven't found any impetus to log back in to check things out yet.

    Checking out the past couple of chapters with new voice acting is about as tempting as it gets, but then... if the story isn't that spectacular to begin with and everything else remains the same tedium that I got bored with... not sure it feels that urgent admiring the new layer of polish on top of not very interesting content.

    1. I definitely wouldn't call any of it "Don't Miss!" content. It depends on what you like to do and also on how you felt about it before, I think. They've very much found a formula and they're milking it. It is not exciting. On the other hand, compared to what I consider to be the nadir of PoF and the following couple of years, much of which was actively unpleasant to plow through, not just unexciting, the Icebrood Saga is a big step up.

      As for the story, it's the same incoherent gibberish its been since day one. I love the soap opera aspects of it and it makes about as much sense as any soap opera. I have to say there was a twist in this episode I wasn't expecting but it's a total soap opera twist - it makes sense in the context of characters who have no self-awareness of any kind. Fun, though, to see where it goes.

      The conversation between Aurene and Jormag was a lot more thoughtful. It hadn't occured to me that all Elder dragons eventually go insane. No wonder Aurene's worried about the future.


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