Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Hope Is A Dangerous Thing : GW2

Yesterday, sometime around five in the evening, "All or Nothing", the fifth episode in Guild Wars 2's fourth season of The Living World, went live. At the time I was playing EverQuest II. Later, I stopped to have tea. Then Mrs Bhagpuss and I watched something on iPlayer.

It wasn't until around eight in the evening that I logged into GW2 to start the new chapter. By a quarter past eleven I'd finished it.

I was still thinking about it when I went to bed. I dreamed about it in the night. I woke up thinking about it this morning. Mostly about the way it ended.

There's not much I can say that isn't a spoiler. Nothing, really. I took plenty of screenshots, some of them excellent, but I can't use any of those either, especially not the best ones.

I guess I can talk about the new map, Thunderhead Peaks. I haven't really explored it yet, other than the parts that I needed to visit for the storyline. It's a very large, multi-layered area that sits above Desert Highlands. I think it's technically part of a region known as Deldrimor Front, which may or may not be part of The Shiverpeaks. It's a moot point. As yet it doesn't connect to anything else.

Visually, Thunderhead Peaks is stunning. I found it difficult to resist running off in all directions to poke around the ruins, caves, tombs, mines and mountains. As I was working through the storyline there, banners flashed across my screen, announcing various stages of what I took to be the meta event chain.

I declined to join in. Too busy. Too focused. Word on the meta isn't very positive, anyway, but I only found that out later. I'll reserve judgment until I've tried it for myself.

The other big ticket item in the update is a new Fractal along with a lot of tweaks to that game mode. I don't do Fractals so I have nothing to say on that. There's also a new Epic weapon, something else I have no interest in, a new mount mastery that sounds marginally useful at best and an "Upgradeable Weapon Set" about which I know absolutely nothing.

None of which matters in the least, not after that story episode. Which I really can't talk about.

I suppose I could comment on how very, very short it is. That's not really a spoiler. Even by the long-established standards the Living World, this is blink-and-you'll-miss-it short.

It took me barely three hours on a first run, when I had no idea what I was doing. Those three hours included at least thirty minutes of dithering and probably another ten or fifteen taking screenshots and generally gawking. Plus I spoke to every NPC that would talk back.

Added to that, I do the Living World on my heal-specced Druid, who wishes he had the DPS of a limp dish-rag. I'd estimate that a second run, on a character with decent DPS, knowing where to go and what to do, would take no more than a couple of hours.

And yet, I'm not complaining. One of the reasons All or Nothing is so short is that, finally and thankfully, almost all of the really pointless, timewasting filler has been removed. It's true that there is still a certain amount of repetition but the barefaced padding isn't quite as obvious as it used to be.

The big fights were... ok, I guess. They didn't last forever. I was able to use my normal class abilities. Nothing made me want to throw my monitor out of the window. It's an improvement. I'll take it.

The story, though. The story and the ending. That ending...

So, now what? We wait three months for Episode Six? Or was that the finale of Season Four? Do we go all the way to late Summer, early Autumn and a third expansion that hasn't been officially announced or even unofficially hinted at? Which might not even exist?

We're supposed to just carry on? As though nothing happened?

Anyway, I can't discuss it so I'm going to shut up. And you know what? By the time it's all common knowledge and fair game for analysis and dissection and speculation we'll all have moved on and it will be too late. No-one will want to know. So I'll never get to discuss it.

This is what I will say: it's the kind of thing that, the moment you've finished it, you want spend a whole evening talking about. Preferably in a bar, loudly, with hand gestures. And you know someone's going to cry and if someone else says the wrong thing then, friendships could end over it.

Where does that leave us? Well, that's what we'd talk about, isn't it? We'd have to. We couldn't not.

But we can't. So let's leave it at that.


  1. I'm sure you mentioned it before but I can't remember right now... why do you have such a dislike for talking about spoilers again? I think the last time I knew what was happening in GW2's story from reading your blog was back in season 1, hah! Ever since then you've almost sounded like a marketer when it came to these story updates. "It's clearly got me excited, but I can't tell you why. You'll just have to find out for yourselves!" ;)

    1. In Season One, both the pace and the delivery mechanisms were completely different. It was much more like a soap opera, where you expected anyone at all interested to be up to speed with everything that was going on and eager to discuss it to death at the first opportunity.

      These days, LS episodes are so widely-spaced and so heavily hyped that every chapter feels like a major event. Because of that, I do feel a certain responsibility to the handful of regular readers who, I know from comments, still play or at least might eventually get around to playing. There is, of course, a long discussion to be had on what constitutes a spoiler and another on what can and can't be spoiled but by and large, I think it's just safer to avoid saying anything.

      On the other hand, I really want to talk about stuff like this when it's fresh in my mind, so it's a Catch 22. Ideally, I'd go to someone else's blog, where they don't care about spoilers, and discuss it in their comment thread. But there aren't many (any?) GW2 blogs left now.

      I did think about slapping a big "SPOILER" notice at the top and then talking about it, but I don't think there's any way to predict what part of the post (especially the pictures) will show up on the various browsers and devices people use.

      All that aside, there's another reason why this particular post is the way it is. It refelcts, fairly closely, how I felt after playing through the episode: bleak, shocked, a little lost. Not knowing what to do or how to react is a big part of this storyline right now and any emptiness and alienation evident in the post is entirely intentional. I'm by no means the only person feeling that GW2 is a difficult prospect as light entertainent right now, as can be seen from some of the forum comments.

      This blog is, first and foremost, a personal journal: when I read this post again in years to come I think the way it's written will remind me of the way I felt at the time. A critical analysis or a proper review of the episode would have less chance of doing that. Although I very much would like to do one of those as well...

  2. Bah, just talk about it after a couple days. :) I need a comments thread to chat about stuff while I'm still too lazy to do anything to my own fallow blog.

    Speaking in generalities, I'm distantly pleased. The previous episode and this one really took a turn back into the more serious dramatic territory that I remember from Guild Wars 1, rather than feeling like a couple of writers were giggling like schoolchildren over writing smartass dialogue for their favorite characters.

    I ranted some years back on how the GW2 story at the time felt too same-y between episode chapters and that I missed the more cinematic ups-and-downs of old GW1. Definitely seeing more attention to that now, so I'm pretty cheery about that.

    It takes so darned long to produce though, hence the distantness. I'm losing so much interest and focus in the game in between episodes that I struggle to remember what happened previously. Still, given the reactions on Reddit from far more invested players, the improved story beats seem to be more of a hit than a miss. Which can only be a good thing.

    1. Yes, the last two chapters have been much better in terms of gravitas and direction. It's a good story now but the pacing is just untenable. It's highly significant, I think, that the Official Response threads on the forums attract a derisory number of replies these days: Episode 4 didn't manage to get 200 responses in three months, which seems to be a meaningless number considering the game has to have tens of thousands of players at bare minimimum.

      These days you barely hear people talk about the story in game. It used to be a major topic of conversation and speculation. Lots of people rush to do the new LS chapter but mostly to get the Achis, open the new map and start working on whatever the new grind item is, as far as I can see.

      I do think most of the decline in interest is down to the pacing. These tiny gobbets four or, at most, five times a year can't possibly hold anyone's attention. Maybe the Season 1 bi-weekly cadence was too fast but this is way, way too slow.


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