Thursday, June 17, 2021

Try Anything Twice

Sometimes it pays to ignore your preconceptions, to give yourself the opportunity to be proved wrong. When ArenaNet posted their roadmap for the summer I was positively scathing about the planned revisiting of Living World Seasons Two and Three:

"I would literally rather spend my evenings cleaning my oven than ever do any of LS Seasons two or three again and as for achievements I never did most of those in the first place so that won't be happening. Once again, good luck to them as likes it. I'll pass, thanks."

Extra sarcasm points for a brave use of "literally" there. Brave it may have been. Correct it most certainly was not.

This afternoon I completed the first of the four Seasons of the Dragons meta-meta-achievements, comprising everything from the opening of Dry Top to the apocalyptic cut scenes that preceded the Heart of Thorns expansion. On original release that content spanned the six months between July 2014 to January 2015. The rerun took just one.

Finishing the first of the extremely asymetric meta-metas netted me an Ascended Weapon chest. Also a metric ton of lesser loot but we'll pass over that for now. The halfway mark requires another six metas. If I can stand it 'til then I'll get an unlock for a guaranteed precursor for an End of Dragons legendary.

I've made no secret over the years of my lack of interest in Guild Wars 2's legendary weapons. And the armor or accessories come to that. Even so, I am interested in the lesser-quality precursors reqired to craft them, if only because of how insanely low the drop rate has always been. 

In nine years, playing two or three accounts each, logging in virtually every single day, Mrs. Bhagpuss and I have seen exactly two pre-cursors drop. One each. I must have had hundreds of thousands of opportunities, maybe millions. Just one came good.

I'm not going to pretend there was any other reason I started doing these "Return to..." missions a month ago. I looked at the rewards and decided I wanted them. I was prepared to shift my fixed position in the name of greed. 


I'm happy enough with that decision. I wanted some stuff. I got some stuff. What I wasn't bargaining on was enjoying myself while I did it.

Let's be clear: the parts of Living Story I never liked have not changed a jot. Nor have they improved with age. The awful, poorly-designed, poorly-implemented boss fights are as clumsy, tedious and infuriating as they ever were. The clunky dialog hasn't magically found a spark. The plot holes haven't healed over. None of that has changed.

The saving grace of these repeat performances is that the bad points are much easier to ignore now. The big fights take a fraction of the time because most of the bugs have been fixed, because my characters are somewhat stronger than they were and most importantly because there are accurate, detailed walkthroughs for everything. The infelicities, inconsistencies and outright insanities in the story don't jar the way they did because I don't come to them with the hopes and expectations I once did.


With those objections removed, the chapters are better able to stand or fall on their merits. They also benefit strongly from being exposed on a weekly rather than a bimonthly schedule. It's something of a novelty for me to be able to remember what happened in the previous episode when I start a new one.

Conversely, back when these episodes were first released, I was much more invested in the story they were telling. I also didn't know what what was coming next. There is a bit of the "yeah, yeah, let's move it along folks" to my appreciation of the material these days.

That said, it has been unsettlingly nostalgic at times to see these familiar passages play out once again. I'm quite surprised at the things I remember and the things I don't but perhaps what surprises me more are the nuances I must have missed. 


I recall just about everything from Fort Salma, the big reception in Divinity's Reach, the trip to Durmand Priory. The Inquest's attack on Taimi is just as distressing even when you know it's coming. Hearing Zojja's voice makes me angry all over again when I think about what's going to happen to her, the way she'll be gaslit and forgotten. 

I learned new things, too. Much of the lengthy series of flashbacks showing Caithe and Faolin's early years struck me much more forcibly this time around. Retrospective foresight casts a weird set of shadows.

One of the really unexpected pleasures has been the interstitials. GW2 is moderately famous for the quality of its art team but most of that praise is directed at the environmental artists. It's very easy to forget how evocative some of the cut scenes and, especially, the loading screen art can be. If the game ever does get the player housing system it so obviously deserves, many of these illustrations would make wonderful wall art.

The Living Story missions only make up about half of the necessary achievements for the meta. The rest come from open-world activities in whichever new map was introduced with the chapter in question. That's almost been more fun than revisiting the story, having a reason to do some of the content I very much enjoyed when it was fresh.


Over the past three or four weeks I've completed the whole of the Dry Top meta several times and the Vinewrath meta in Silverwastes as well. I shouldn't really have needed the crutch of the current event to open any of this stuff up for me. ArenaNet are quite possibly the most successful of all the major mmorpg houses at keeping older content in play and you can find a map full of people doing these metas without too much trouble most days. 

The thing is, I never do that. There's a lot of older content in GW2 now and I tend to need a prod to revisit most of it, even though I almost always have a good time when I make the effort.

Overall, I have to say this whole "Return to..." event has far outstripped my expectations. It's even made me reconsider the role and function of structured, personal narrative in mmorpgs. I wonder sometimes if I really know what I want. I'm all but sure I don't always know what I need.


Whether this mellow mood will extend to the next set of returning Living Story chapters does definitely remain to be seen. These, after all, were the direct lead-in to Heart of Thorns, the expansion I really liked, and the story at that point was comparatively coherent and compelling. Season Three was the preamble to Path of Fire, the expansion I really didn't like, and if I remember anything about it at all it's not with much affection.

But that's almost the best reason to stay with the process. The rewards may have been why I started but now I'm getting an education. I'm learning new things about the game and about myself and that's a lot more than I expected to get out of something that, when it was announced, looked very much like filler. 

If I find I'm not enjoying it any more then I'll stop but for now I find I'm actually looking forward to each "new" weekly instalment. The next drop should take us to Bloodstone Fen. I spent a lot of time there, once, and I had some very complimentary things to say about it. 

It'll be nice to see the old place again.

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