Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Reelin' In The Years

I had fun in Dry Top yesterday. It was busy and bustling, lots of people crashing around, rushing from event to event, chattering excitedly in map chat, some of them scolding each other for not doing what they should, others calling out help and advice. Today, after I'd done my dailies, I decided I fancied a bit more of that. 

It was always on the cards. I wrapped up my post on Guild Wars 2's "Return to Living World" event by wondering whether I might "turn it into a long-term project, knock off a mission now and again, whenever the mood takes me". The mood did take me but mostly I was curious to find out if the instanced content had gotten any easier in seven years.

Not that I could remember all that much about it. I get flashbacks about some of the really bad boss fights once in a while but I have a feeling most of those were in Season Three. I really couldn't remember anything that happened in Season Two.

I started on the first part, Return to Disturbance in Brisbane Wilds around ten o'clock this morning and finished the last part, Return to Fort Selma around four this afternoon. Over two days the whole thing probably took me about five or six hours.

I have some thoughts and observations.  In no particular order, here they come.

The achievement window is misleading. I looked at it quite carefully when I was writing the post yesterday and I had the impression it would take four meta-achievements to complete. It doesn't. It takes twenty-four. That is quite a difference.

The wiki explains it much more clearly: 

There are a dozen achievements in the first meta-achievement and completing them all does not get you an Ascended Weapons chest. Completing those twelve achievements gets you a choice of one of a set of weapon skins or six mystic coins. It also counts as the first of the four meta-achievements you need to complete Tier One of the Seasons of the Dragons meta-meta-achievement. That gets you an Ascended Weapons chest.

If you look at the chart above, Tier One is the shortest of the four. Tier Two and Tier Three require six meta-achievements each and Tier Four takes eight. I'm not at all sure we know yet just how that breaks down in terms of distribution cadence but if every one of the two dozen meta-achievements is going to be released as a separate instalment lasting one week, as the first two are, the whole event is going to last six months.

And if that's true, and if you take it that the Return to Living World event is effectively the pre-launch build up to the expansion, you could read it as confirmation of a minimum six-month wait before we see the release of End of Dragons. Considerably longer than I was expecting.

Or you could ask why, if this is the pre-expansion hype train, the token that gives you an EoD Legendary precursor is the reward for Tier Two rather than Tier Four. On a weekly release schedule you can get that one in fourteen weeks, which takes us into the begining of September, which was round about when I was thinking the expansion might drop.

So much for speculation. How about the experience?

The first meta-achievement was much faster and easier to complete than I was expecting. Dry Top being so busy made completing the six achievements there very straightforward but I don't think it wil be very much harder even when things quieten down. The achievements all set a very low bar.

I was expecting a lot more trouble with the instances but they positively whizzed by. I took my newly re-built asura ranger, now using the official Metabattle Basic Ranger build and fully kitted out with ascended armor and weapons. Apparently the people who come up with these metas do know what they're doing. Everything just melted

It was not like that first time around. As I moved through the chapters it all came back to me, the story and the fights. I could recall all the parts where I'd struggled originally. Seven years ago I described the fights as "tough and messy". Back then I was duoing  Living Story episodes with Mrs. Bhagpuss and I commented that "it often felt like two people were needed". This time around it all felt very easy with just me.

Clearly either I have gotten better or the content has become comparatively easier in the light of changes made to the game by the developers  and the theorycrafting done by players. I'll give you a clue which it might be: I have not gotten better.

With the fights on fast-forward, the drag anchors are your companions. Other than in one or two cut scenes there's no way to skip the dialogue and since these are story episodes there's a lot of talking. Worse, there are many situations when the mission can't progress until all the NPCs are in the correct position and some of them like to amble along like nuns at the seaside. (I've seen nuns at the seaside - trust me, no nun ever stepped lively with ice-cream in hand).


Since I mentioned the characters and the story, here's what I thought about it the first time: "I enjoyed it a lot". I thought the characterization was "coming along nicely" and the voice acting was "good". As for the writing, well, we'll get to that.

It seems I was more easily impressed back then. Or maybe standards have actually improved. I think it might be that, believe it or not. Listening and reading today, most of the dialog seemed quite flat. There were one or two jokes that didn't land and a lot of lines came dangerously close to being filler. 

The voice acting didn't seem anything like as good as I remembered, either, but that may have been because the characters still seemed to be searching for the people they were going to become. I'd say both the writing and the acting are generally of a higher standard nowadays, at least when everyone's not off working on an expansion.

The really strange part was how different the characters were. Almost without exception, everyone came across as less experienced, less confident, less jaded and less worn down. That's something of an unexpected compliment to how they've been handled across the years. They really have lived through some stuff, haven't they?

Especially Taimi and Braham. I'd completely forgotten just how young Taimi was back then. Everyone treats her like a child and she acts like one, too. Braham indulges her, Rox dislikes her and makes no effort to conceal her feelings. Taimi whines, snaps and behaves like a hyperactive twelve-year old. She's petulant, impatient, self-obsessed and lacks all the confidence, gravitas and pathos I associate with the character now. 

Braham, on the other hand, seems older, calmer, less... insane. He seems like a steady kind of guy and a solid big brother figure. Of course, at this point he hasn't had his mother murdered in front of him while he watches helplessly. Rox is her old, unhappy, insecure self. A little bitter, a little angry. I'd forgotten she was like that once. 

As for Marjorie and Kasmeer, the second chapter, Entanglement, is the one with the unfortunate incident involving Marjorie's sister Belinda and a large mordrem tendril. At least Marjorie doesn't have to watch it happen. I remember that scene well. I'd forgotten how freighted with nuance the dialog is, though. Boy, that was going somewhere. I don't recall if it ever arrived.

Here's the thing about the story, the characters and the dialog in these episodes: it may not be great writing (it really isn't) but it means something in the context of the game. In my original first impressions piece I described the plotting as "somewhere around journeyman comic-book level (that's a good thing) with the dramatics hitting a solid soap-opera groove". That might not be a ringing endorsement but it's a much better review than I'd give the second half of the Icebrood Saga, not to mention most of Path of Fire and the interminable Joko storyline.

I wasn't entirely sure I was getting the full original experience at times. Once or twice it felt like scenes were missing. There's one part where everyone leaves Taimi in Scarlet's hideout to carry on her research. Something happens that scares Taimi and sends everyone rushing back to check on her. The dialog is all about some big, scary event but as far as I could see, nothing had happened. I also hit one bug when all the characters just stood around, motionless and silent, and nothing would make them carry on. I had to log out and redo that section from the beginning.

Overall, though, it all went pretty smoothly. I can't see much prospect of my making it all the way through twenty-four sessions of it, especially not once we get to Season Three, which I remember being much less fun than Season Two. I would like to get as far as the free precursor. That looks doable, maybe.

And finally, on yesterday's theme of doing it for the money, even though I didn't get an Ascended weapon chest, there is one hell of a lot of loot to be had. I could barely stagger away with all the bags that were thrown at me. It's not very good loot but there's a lot of it. And the first meta-achievement itself is worth nearly twenty gold in Mystic coins, if you're strapped for cash, always assuming you don't want the weapon skins. Not a bad return on time invested.

All things considered, I'm quite looking forward to the next two episodes of Return to Living World dropping next week. That's something I never thought I'd hear myself say.

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