Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ice Cream For Crow : First Impressions of GW2's "A Star to Guide Us"

When I posted a sour, pessimistic reaction to the recent trailer for Guild Wars 2's next Living Story episode, I confess I was hoping to be proved wrong. Despite my supposed ennui, when patch day came I found myself anticipating the drop with something not dissimilar to excitement.

ArenaNet always update on Tuesdays, almost always at either 3pm, 5pm or 8pm U.K. time. Three o'clock passed without incident but at ten to five, just as Mrs Bhagpuss and I were on the jumping puzzle stage of the Legend Builder torch collection, the ten minute warning sounded.

By five past five I was patching and by a quarter past I was playing. I didn't stop until just now, around nine. I haven't been playing solidly all that time. There were various bag-clearings and natural breaks. I guess, though, that I've put in a solid three hours on the new chapter, working solely through the main narrative.

This minute, as I type, my druid, who always does the Living Story stuff, is tapping his foot impatiently in the new, upgradeable instance, Sun's Refuge. I took possession of it at the end of part three and that's the only spoiler I'm going to let slip.

I have a theory about spoilers: even saying you aren't going to give spoilers is a spoiler. If someone tells you there's a twist at the end (or in the middle) of a movie, that's a spoiler, even though they don't give you a single clue what the twist might be.

When it comes to the story in A Star to Guide Us there is literally nothing I can say that wouldn't be a spoiler. The meta-spoiler is that if I were to tell you the spoilers, boy! would they be spoilers! I exclaimed out loud once and sat back and goggled several times. There is a lot in this episode that I did not expect.

Probably most people who've been paying attention to the MMO news this year will remember that there was a sudden change of personnel in the GW2 story department back in July. Whether that had a material effect on this episode I have no way of knowing.

Certainly I imagine there won't have been any time to change the plot, which means this very welcome return to what I consider to be the real main storyline has probably been in the works for a good while. There may, however, have been an impact on the scripting. It feels that way.

In recent episodes I've gotten used to groaning or shaking my head at some of the sloppy dialog, in-jokes and all-round loose writing. This time, so far, there's been none of that. Everyone sounds like they're taking it seriously for once, which doesn't mean there's no humor and no jokes but that those there are seem to derive - fairly convincingly - from the characters and the situation. It's a relief.

As well as benefitting from significantly above par plot and dialog, gameplay is similarly improved. The first three chapters of this episode are blissfully free of either over-repetitive set pieces or inordinately long and/or complicated boss fights.

There's a modicum of repetition in Part One, A Shattered Nation, and moderately lengthy fights in both Part Two, Chaos Theory and Part Three, Legacy but none of it annoyed me. Most of it I enjoyed. It seemed to me that someone had actually listened to the complaints that fill the forums after every Living Story - the same complaints - and instead of dismissing them as usual, for once decided to do something about them.

There is still the final battle to come, of course. I have no idea what that will entail but there will inevitably be a Big Boss. I just hope the lessons continue to have been learned there, but even if they don't, the earlier stages represent an improvement and a hopeful sign for the future.

The new map, about which I was very sniffy before I'd seen it, is possibly the best new map since the last expansion (although I did quite like that one with the lost Charr tribe). Any fears about the innate ugliness of a Branded map turned out to be entirely misplaced.

Branding, for those who don't play GW2, is something the Elder Dragon Kralkatorrik does to landscapes and people that turns them purple. It's not pretty, or at least it hasn't been in the past. Only somehow, now it is.

Visually the new map, Jahai Bluffs, is spectacular. Unfortunately for ANet, that on its own isn't enough any more. Their art department is a victim of its own success. Work that would draw huge praise in other MMOs is both expected and taken for granted here, not least by me.

Also, because they tend to be rigorously authentic within their own design specifications, it's becoming increasingly difficult to raise any enthusiasm as we arrive on what must be the tenth or eleventh desert map in succession. Well, they found a way to change that up. Not saying any more. Spoilers.

So far so good, then. Indeed, so far so much better than expected. I have a free day tomorrow so I hope to finish the story, even if there is the expected attritional boss fight as a capper.And then I still won't be able to say anything about it for a while, which, based on what's happened so far, is going to be the most annoying part of the whole shebang.

Nice to be able to say that, for once.

1 comment:

  1. Given your prior pessimism, I'm glad you're enjoying it :) Thanks for not spoiling :)


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