Saturday, September 5, 2015

Tales From Topographic Jungles : GW2

I'd have loved Heart of Thorns when I was fourteen. It's Brian Aldiss's Hothouse as imagined by Roger Dean, lush, overripe, adrip with adolescent sturm und drang. At least that's the impression I'm getting from the smallish portion we've been allowed to glimpse thus far.

As expansions go it's hard to assess. It seems fragmented, a collection of features rather than a coherent whole, a sense that's exacerbated by the piecemeal reveals, the sporadic, shifty liftings of the curtain. To retain the mystery much must remain concealed yet to drum up interest some things have to be exposed. It's a conundrum.

What we're allowed to see varies wildly. The PvP map has not only been open to all, at times it's been all that was open. Later this week there's another beta test of the new Desert Borderlands for World vs World and, unlike the Beta Weekend that's happening as I write, entry to which is guaranteed by the simple pre-purchase of HoT as a banner across every log-in and map transition screen reminds you, the  midweek WvW beta is by invitation only.

I haven't been invited. No-one in WvW chat has mentioned it. No-one mentioned any of the previous closed borderland tests either. There's no NDA and yet no-one is talking. I'm driven to wonder if that's because no-one cares.

People certainly cared about the first pay-to-play Beta Weekend. Last time we had one of these events the place was swarming and chat was scrolling almost too fast to read. When I logged into Verdant Brink last night map chat was silent. There was no-one in sight. About the only person I heard in the first half-hour was someone asking if he'd come to a dead map.

Maybe he had. Or maybe it was quiet because ArenaNet opened the doors two hours earlier than the time they'd announced. Whatever the reason it was jolly quiet. And peaceful. And nice. Hold that thought. I'll come back to it.

Last time round our little corner was the eastern half of what ANet very confusingly refer to as "the jungle-floor biome". To me, a floor is something solid that you can walk on but here it seems to include yawning chasms and gulfs as well as tree branches accessible only by leaping or gliding.

It's still not very big, is it?

Everything about the open maps in Heart of Thorns seems designed to confuse, not least how much of them there really is. We know for certain that there are just four open-world, explorable maps. We also know that all of them are tri-partite - "Roots", "Floor" and "Canopy". According to details that were datamined as long ago as April, the last two beta weekends have given us access to the whole of one layer of Verdant Brink. Assuming all the layers have the same surface area if not, necessarily, the same volume, then we should have seen 33% of the full, three-dimensional map. ANet don't seem to see it that way :

"For our second beta weekend test, you’ll be landing in a different part of the map than the one we showed in our first beta weekend, and you’ll be able to explore a new area: the jungle-floor biome. The playable content will comprise about 25% of the expansion’s first map."

Since they said the same last time, I make that 50% of the "playable content" in Verdant Brink they've revealed so far, but in just 33% of the map space. Either the other two biomes are smaller or there's less going on in them. I don't know. I should probably just stop thinking about it so hard.

Don't you just hate being photo-bombed?

Much more important is whether it feels like a place you'd want to spend your leisure time. Not your character, who, as the locals will never for a moment let you forget, is The Pact Commander and therefore is On Duty at all times, but you, the player, relaxing at home.

The first beta weekend revealed a hyper-active, frenetic environment where every hard yard had to be earned with blood. When the events worked the fighting was constant. It was tiring, draining, exhausting and frenetic. I could easily imagine it being fun for a couple of full-on days but after that I'd never want to see it again.

The western half of the Verdant Brink jungle floor is not like that. Not at all. There's much more opportunity to stop and smell the orchids. There seemed to be fewer mordrem and fewer mobs in general. Whether that's a response to feedback from last time or just A Different Part of The Jungle I don't know, but I like it a lot better.

I'm not hiding - I'm ranged support I tell you!

There also seemed to be fewer events and the ones I encountered flowed much more naturally. I hardly dare say this but there was a fifteen minute period where I was having a really good time.

I'd been exploring and enjoying that very much when I happened to arrive in a cave just as a Legendary mordrem attacked. The few players who happened to be there rallied to assist the embattled Pact survivors and after a very well-balanced and enjoyable fight the mordrem was defeated.

Drops poultry meat. Must be a chicken.
After we'd picked up the fallen the entire Pact contingent decided to move to another location, requesting we players escort them, as is traditional on such occasions. If there's one thing GW2 does better than all other MMORPGs it's an escort quest and this one was a lot of fun. We fought our way up a long incline, dispatching numerous mordrem champions along the way, until the Quaggan in charge of the expedition found a nice, exposed position on the edge of a long drop and decided it was perfect for a camp, so much better than the secure, defensible cave we'd left behind.

At that point Tequatl was calling so I left them to it. I expect they're all dead now. That's what you get for putting a Quaggan in charge. The thing is, it really was exciting and it didn't feel forced. It was just a bunch of players happening on a situation and getting caught up in the moment. Y'know, the way they told us it would be all those years ago. The way it really could be, sometimes, back then.

Meanwhile all that Dry Top/Silverwastes timed objective twaddle was ticking away in the top-right corner of the screen. No doubt the events I was caught up in were contributing somehow but I cannot emphasize enough how much I do no give a flying monkey's cuss about that. In fact, if ANet would like to raise my enjoyment of HoT by an order of magnitude, all they need to do is make that map event timer optional. I'll switch it off and we never need to speak of it again.

Chocks away!

Other than get my wings and explore that was about all I did. The glider was another positive. It only takes three mastery points to complete first stage of the track and one of those points to buy it. It was very intuitive and easy to use; much more so than the glider in ArcheAge, for example, or the gliding mounts in EQ2. Any apprehensions I had about the efficacy or user-friendliness of gliders was quashed the moment I unfurled my wings.

The Mastery system itself I quite like. It's very similar indeed to the AA system in Everquest or EQ2 in that it's not really much more than an alternative set of levels. That suits me. I love leveling. The points seem easy to get. You simply gain Mastery xp as though it was ordinary xp by doing whatever you normally do, filling out the same bar that used to be your xp bar. You also get whole points at a time for doing specific things. I got one for killing the Legendary mordrem for example. Again, that is identical to how AAs work in Norrath.

Aw, c'mon! Don't be such a tease!

While exploring I found a map portal in the extreme south-west corner of the map so I know at least one way we'll be going. What the other maps are like we won't know until October 23rd. I hope there's a bit more variety than trees, lianas, cliffs and more trees but apart from that I'm feeling a tad more hopeful than I was. If nothing else it'll make a bit of a change.

How durable these environments are long-term is something I'm still very dubious about. There are only so many treefrog villages and jungle clearings I can take. If the entire future development of GW2 during the lifespan of this expansion is going to be tied to the Maguuma Wastes then I think we may have a problem.

Who knows, though? Perhaps it won't be three years until the next expansion takes us somewhere else. It might only be a year. I think I could handle that much jungle. Even without going raiding.


  1. they can open new maps at Maguma Jungle region for the living story, os they made for the otehr living story seasons...

    1. I realize they can add maps, although given their record on doing that over the first three years I wouldn't get your hopes up too far. The problem comes if they are are all jungle maps. So far every map we have seen connected to this storyline is either bleak desert (Dry Top/Silverwastes) or dense jungle (Verdant Brink). It's the theme itself that risks outstaying its welcome.

  2. This map sounds a lot more enjoyable than the last one you described... glad to hear it!

  3. and you just made me miss the game again haha. sounds like they've learnt a lot on how to create these event driven maps over the years. Makes it a shame then that it wasn't there focus over the years

    1. Well, they've applied their Achiever-oriented focus even more determinedly to exploration than ever. That's what they've done. You kind of have to ignore that to get the most bang for your explorer buck. Their artists continue to do an exemplary job though so it's still worth it. Providing you like looking at trees, that is.


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