Thursday, March 11, 2021

I'm Off Balance

The latest episode of Guild Wars 2's current Living World went live a couple of days ago.  It labors under an awkward portmanteau title that varies depending on where you see it. The full version runs to Icebrood Saga: Episode 5: Champions: Chapter 3: Balance. Chew on that for a while.

At this point you might normally expect a capsule review or some pithy comments about it. Sorry. I don't have anything. For the first time in probably the entire history of GW2's Living World project I haven't been able to summon up the enthusiasm to play it yet. 

And that's not really ArenaNet's fault. As I've said consistently since it started, I've found the Icebrood Saga to be a distinct improvement over what we were getting before. In normal circumstances I'd have logged in my heal-spec druid, the one who gets to do all this stuff, pretty much as soon as the update landed.

The reason I haven't is, of course, Valheim. I'm still at the stage where I begrudge any time spent in other games. I know a recurring theme for years here has been how short the Living Story episodes are but it's all relative. It may only be three hours but that's three hours I could have been mining iron, chopping trees or sailing my longship into uncharted waters.  

I also wasn't super-hyped by the very weak trailer. That's long been another theme here; the extraordinarily variable quality of the promotional material ANet release before each of these chapters drop. This one is particularly lackluster. Here, take a look for yourself.

The worst thing about that trailer is how old it makes the game look. If there's one thing most people seem to agree on, even if GW2 is not a game they personally care to play, it's that ArenaNet has one of the better art departments in the genre. Guild Wars 2 is known for its good looks.

You wouldn't know it from that trailer, would you? It's a lot of not very convincingly animated characters engaging in stilted, cumbersome combat against a series of largely featureless backdrops. The colors are muted and muddy, the action is unconvincing and the impression I'm left with is of something discomfortingly close to a decade-old free to play import, one that probably didn't do well in the west and which few now remember.

Is that really how the way to promote a game that's still widely reckoned to be one of the larger, more successful Western mmorpgs? 

But then, I don't imagine it's intended to promote the game to anyone who isn't already playing it. Almost the entire trailer is taken up with listing the benefits to existing players, all of which could be summed up with the simple phrase "More of the same".

The one shot in the Balance trailer that actually looked interesting.


Massively OP's Guild Wars 2 correspondent, Colin Henry, (who, I only now realize, is also Chaosconstant of the Occasional Hero blog) sounds world-weary as he gives us his first impressions piece: "Another month, another round of Dragon Response Missions", he says, scarcely inspiring me to jump into the game to see what's happening for myself.

He goes on to clarify:

"If you have played the last couple of chapters, nothing in this release will blow your mind; everything here is the same old DRM formula. There is a pre-event with two different “click the things” objectives and one “defeat the things” objective that give everyone in the party buffs upon completions. After that, we must fight our way through some dragon minions and defeat a boss".  

I generally try not to let other people's opinions influence my behavior but that rang altogether too true to be ignored. Here's what I said about the last round of Dragon Response Missions, back in January:

"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 yes, it appears DRMs are here to stay, at least for now. Oh well. If ArenaNet can recycle ideas to pad out what passes for content in the game I guess I can do the same for the blog.

At this point an astute reader might be tempted to interject something along the lines of "Hold on a minute! Wasn't it just a few days ago you were praising Daybreak for adding "another by-the-numbers instance that follows the well-trodden path of many similar holiday quests before it", which you went on to emphasize was "absolutely fine", since you "don't come to EQ2 for cutting-edge innovation or out-of-the-box thinking." ?"

Yes, well, unlike the convoluted syntax of that last paragraph, I can't fault the logic. Guilty as charged. In my defence I refer you to my oft-cited favorite quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the one about consistency and hobgoblins, something about which I've been remarkably consistent over the years. Ironically.

Wow! That really makes me want to see more!


And really there is no logical fallacy here. I'm quite pleased that ANet are sticking to their last, at last. Foolish inconsistency may be something to avoid but giving the customers what they want is a tried and tested maxim. It's about time they gave it a try.

I guess the question ought to be is it what the customers want? I pulled the trailer above from ArenaNet's official YouTube channel. It was posted two weeks ago and as of this moment it has 1240 views and four comments. One of those comments bluntly states "Stop producing single player content, nobody cares about the story... and even if, it has little to no replay value. Focus on wvw, spvp and challenging late game pve content. You know those game types where you have to work together... after all it is a mmo....". A second commenter agrees.

The other two comments all too predictably welcome the return of the irritating and incomprehensibly fan-favored avian race, the Tengu. Certain sections of the GW2 playerbase go into conniptions at the mere mention of these overgrown starlings and any suggestion the annoying worm-botherers might make some kind of a comeback, let alone become a playable race, has comment threads lighting up all over.

So, two votes against and just two for tengu, then? Maybe no-one really looks at YouTube any more. Just over a thousand views and four comments seems like not very much to me. I have videos on my YouTube channel with more views than that. Alright, I have one video. But the point stands.

Not if I see them first...
 It's probably safe to assume that anyone who actually cares saw the trailer on the official GW2 website and that pretty much no-one not already playing has seen it at all. It's very much a case of catering to the converted. It's not surprising the trailer has all the zest and sparkle of a contractual obligation.

Speaking of which, I think I've strung this out for about as long as I need to. I'll be back with more if and when I get around to playing through those Dragon Response Missions. Oh, and the story instance that barely even gets a mention in the trailer, the one where, bizarrely, we get to play as Braham but with the abilities of the class of whatever character we normally play. I wonder if that's contextualized in any way?

Guess I'll find out... eventually. Right now, though, I'm off to play a different surly-looking viking with bad posture and an unconvincing gait. 

In Valheim, that is. In case you couldn't guess.


  1. If you actually look at GW2 channel, there is a version of this trailer with 67K views. The one you've posted is from release page and for whatever reason it's separate version specifically for embed.

    1. Ah, thanks for the clarification. I clicked through the link on the trailer on the website and I did check it went to an official ANet channel but it didn't occur to me there would be more than one let alone that that the trailer on the main web page wouldn't link to the main YouTube channel. It did seem an extraordinarily low figure.


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