Wednesday, February 9, 2022

It's The Little Things

Guild Wars 2
's third expansion, End of Dragons launches in less than three weeks. As the dread day draws ever nearer, ArenaNet's relentless assault intensifies. 

A few days ago we were treated to an hour-long tour of New Kaineng, "Cantha’s heart, a modern metropolis", hosted by Rubi Bayer, formerly Massively's Guild Wars/Guild Wars 2 correspondent, currently either GW2's "Social Media Coordinator" or "Content Marketing Manager" or "Content Marketing Strategist" depending which part of the wiki or her LinkedIn profile you prefer to believe.

I have not watched the video. I suppose I probably should. There's an expansion coming, after all. I don't just play the game, I've been writing about it for nearly a decade now. I ought to care. I ought to be interested.

It's an hour, though. That's a long time. 

Luckily, there's a shorter version. A lot shorter. The day before Rubi took us on the full tour, the official GW2 website posted a promo called "Explore New Kaineng". It's one minute and fifteen seconds long. (1.14 on YouTube - I wonder what they cut?).

I thought I'd be able to manage that, especially when I realised there's a seven second intro and a twenty-one second outro, leaving just forty-seven seconds of actual content. Well, I say "content". For about fifteen seconds all you can see is people fighting in the streets with no context or explanation, so call it about thirty seconds.

I'm not complaining. If I'd wanted more I'd have taken the full tour. Just over half a minute of fast cuts and captions was plenty. I know about as much now as I care to.

There seems to be a concerted effort going on to paint New Kaineng as some kind of cyberpunk city. Some people are calling it "jadepunk", which I thought must be a neologism but which apparently does have some degree of precedent

While we're not really on the subject, what is it with "punk" as a suffix, anyway? What's it meant to suggest? I was around for the birth of both punk as a musical movement and cyberpunk as a literary form and I never fully understood the connection even then. 

Now "punk" just gets bolted onto the back of any old noun, verb or adjective to make some kind of snappy portmanteau in which the first word does ninety-eight per cent of the lifting. Does it ever mean anything more than mirror shades, rivets and leather? And why is that "punk", anyway?


Getting back to the point and accepting that language evolves, first and foremost, through usage, New Kaineng doesn't look much like a "cyberpunk" city to me. It has something of the surface texture familiar from every inflection of South East Asia by way of Blade Runner we've seen in the last forty years but GW2 already has cities far more worthy of the cyber prefix in Rata Sum and Rata Novus. The Asuran cities make New Kaineng look positively funky and down-home.

Again, I'm not saying it doesn't look good. New Kaineng looks as though it'll be an interesting place to explore. It's certainly more interesting than anything we saw in Path of Fire and I'm not saying the art there was anything other than excellent, either. What it looked like was never PoF's problem.

I think what I am saying is that New Kaineng looks okay but not much more than that. Maybe when we're able to walk around those streets in our own virtual forms instead of just looking in from the outside it'll have more impact. Let's hope so.

If I wasn't particularly impressed by my first look at New Kaineng itself, I have to say I was far more taken with the latest promo focusing on the new Mastery track, Jade Tech. If ANet kept this card up their sleeve right until the end because they thought it might not meet expectations, as I've heard said, well let me re-assure them: it exceeded mine.

Heart of Thorns, which introduced the Mastery system, brought gliding into the game and Path of Fire added mounts. Both of those were game changers. Literally. Gameplay changed radically after the introduction of each system, not only in the new areas introduced in the expansions but across every map.

Judged by those standards, the new Mastery does look somewhat trivial: customizeable "Bots" with the ability to enhance a variety of pre-existing systems. They're clearly add-ons rather than innovations. 

They do sound useful, though, and that's probably enough to make working on the new mastery feel worthwhile. They link to the new "Skiff" system to make your flat-bottomed boat skim across the surface faster, something no-one's likely to turn down. 

They have combat-related functionality, increasing your hit points by boosting your vitality and picking you up when you're downed, something rangers' pets have been doing since the game launched back in 2012. There's also some mention of "scavenging", although what they scavenge for isn't explained. There's already a mastery that auto-loots so it can't be that.

The trick that really caught my attention was the ability to create an updraft to lift your glider. I still love gliding in GW2. I use my glider as much as I can, often in places where a mount would be faster, easier and more efficient. There have been many times when I would have loved to be able to summon my own updraft to send my glider soaring over some obstacle.

Of all the End of Dragons features I've seen so far, it's the Jade Tech Mastery Track that interests me the most. Whether it will live up to the (Barely noticeable.) hype remains to be seen. but it's nice to have something in the expansion to look forward to at last.

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