Thursday, June 28, 2018

I'd Tell You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You : GW2

Yesterday I guessed I was about halfway through the current GW2 Living Story episode, Long Live The Lich. I was wrong. Turns out I was more like two thirds of the way in. I finished it this afternoon.

It took me about another ninety minutes, give or take, meaning the whole thing - just the storyline that is - lasts something like three or four hours. Living Story chapters have been clocking in around that length pretty much since the beginning of Season Two, when they moved to the current, instanced format from the open world settings of Season One.

It's no secret that I'm very much in the camp that believes the first season was by far the best. It's not even nostalgia. I offer my many blog posts as evidence that I was invested and involved with the storyline and appreciative of the mechanics at the time they were in play.

Not that Season One didn't have its problems. It had many. Scarlet Briar, who I came to appreciate and even like as I learned more about her and her backstory, was a deeply divisive arch-villain. Even now there are those who spit when they hear her name mentioned.

Extreme Close-Up!

The narrative of the first few weeks and months seemed episodic to put it politely. The pacing could be funereal at times. The open world events frequently started out buggy and didn't always work properly until days after launch. Even when they were up and running smoothly they were open to widespread abuse by players, who swiftly discovered how they could be farmed for profit.

For all that, Season One had a dynamism, a fervor that has never been replicated. The knowledge that most of what arrived with each update would leave with the next, coupled with the much-maligned (not least by me) bi-weekly cadence, gave the whole game an urgency that seems hard to imagine now.

Moving to the current instanced system allowed ANet to monetize the Living World and also to ensure that no GW2 player need miss out on any aspect of the hard (and presumably expensive) work that went into creating it. Many, probably most, players appreciate being able to play the content at a time of their choosing.

One of the biggest complaints about the content of Season One (and again it's a complaint I made often myself) was the complete lack of any new overland maps. Other than the two, small non-combat instances that served as introductions for Rox and Braham, it wasn't until we began to receive Dry Top in instalments that the explorable land mass of the base game increased.

Some Random Fight!

All of that is the past, buried and forgotten. In 2018 our Living World arrives quarterly in tidy packages that always include the same things: a multi-part narrative that takes place mainly in instances, a set of achievements encouraging us to replay those instances, a new map, a new currency, a new vendor with something designed to be worth farming the new currency to buy.

It's indicative of the extremely formulaic, repetitive nature of this process that I now usually feel I've done with the latest Living World update somewhere between a day and a couple of weeks after it arrives. I no longer even bother to open the entire new map, far less complete all the events or spend weeks farming them. I believe I've made these observations in previous posts about other episodes of the Living World but what can you expect? They are all the same.

Part of the reason I'm rehashing history is that, having completed the narrative of the latest update, I find there's almost nothing I can say about it. That doesn't mean there's nothing I want to say about it. Ye gods, no! I have plenty to say. Anyone would, had they seen it. I just can't, because spoilers.

At this stage just about anything I might say would be a spoiler. I took a bunch of screenshots and I can't use most of those because they are all spoilerific too. About all I'm prepared to say about the story is... it's really going to annoy some people - but I'm not one of them.

Irony! Or maybe Sarcasm!

Of course, I long ago gave up expecting consistency or quality from ANet's writing team. That way madness lies. I'll settle for getting a good laugh, a jump scare or something that I wanted to happen. This time I got all three.

I can be a bit more descriptive about the mechanics. This is an area where I've been hyper-critical in the past. I detest ANet's innate belief that the only reason casual players don't love hardcore boss fights is that they aren't exposed to them often enough.

Even more than that I loathe the designers reliance on the Rule of Three (Boss does something weird at 75%, 50% and 25%) and the The Other Rule Of Three (introduce three new gimmicks separately then use all of them at once). Without these two old standbys the Annoying Boss Fights that last 20-30 minutes would last 5-10 minutes instead and I would be done with them that much faster. Who knows, at a quarter of the length I might even enjoy one, once in a while.

Sadly, this episode is not going to be remembered as The One Where Anet Broke The Habit Of A Lifetime. It is, however, one where the gimmicks are more straightforward, easier to grasp, easier to use and less idiotic than usual. Also, I don't think it's a spoiler to confirm that, yes, there is a final boss and yes, you do have to fight them, but it might be if I tell you that the fight in question is less annoying than most of its kind and takes up less of your valuable time than you probably expect.

Title Card!

Other than that, I would only say that the whole production reminded me of one of those Shakespeare plays where there are lots of battles that the audience gets to experience only through various Lords urgently discussing the action while peering into the wings. I'd also say that I've always held that even telling someone there's a surprise ending is a spoiler, no matter that you refrain from telling them what the surprise is.

So, did I enjoy it? Well, yes. I guess so. It was rubbish but so are lots of things I like. I didn't really get any deep emotions poked. Nor too many shallow ones, come to that. Then again, I finished The Banner Saga this week and my main emotional reaction was mild puzzlement. If I had to sum the ending of that one up, "Is that it?" would probably cover it. It might be me, is what I'm saying.

Next, I guess I should go see what's on the new map, do the Hearts, check the vendors and look at the Collection for the Roller Beetle Mount. Or I might just do my dailies and go play something else until September.

I'm not entirely sure that was the reaction ANet were looking for. It certainly wouldn't have happened in Season One.

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