Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Hope Is A Dangerous Thing: GW2

It's been a while since I had anything very nice to say about Guild Wars 2. The direction the game took with the second expansion, Path of Fire, steered it so far away from just about everything that I loved about Core and Heart of Thorns that, had it been a new MMORPG I was trying for the first time, I'd probably have given it a week or two then moved on to something more suited to my tastes.

There's a certain inertia that builds up over seven years, though, especially when your other half is still playing, albeit sporadically. I'm still plugging away, logging in most days, doing my dailies, hanging around for an hour or so if anything's happening in World vs World, which, despite all evidence to the contrary, is still reasonably lively most days, even in Tier 4.

I also try to at least look at anything new ArenaNet manage to get out. It's not like there's much of it. The last season of Living Story was moderately awful but blessedly short. The story wasn't terrible but it would be more satisfying to watch as a YouTube compilation than to play through. The maps that were added, while beautiful, had zero replayability for me. Most of them weren't even interesting enough to explore.

In August, when ANet rented a theater to promote the next stage of their Secret Master Plan to haul their fading flagship around and set it on a course for relevance and recovery, then hyped the reveal with a countdown timer, I was expecting to be disappointed. I wasn't disappointed.

The pathetic travesty of a re-launch sputtered out on the stage at PaxWest. Reddit and the official forums exploded. ANet became the butt of in-genre snark for a few days until the status quo ante was restored and everyone forgot about GW2 again.

After all that, it would be a gross understatement to say I wasn't expecting much from yesterday's Icebrood Saga Prequel, Bound by Blood. The screamingly inappropriate trailer, confusingly released simultaneously with the update, certainly wouldn't have changed my mind, had I watched it before I'd seen the new map for myself.

Ah, the new map. Grothmar Valley. Forget the story and the gameplay - this is what it's all about! And it's only right that I should give credit where credit's due. For the first time in what feels like years, I'm able to say something unequivocally positive about new content in GW2: I love the new map!

I have barely begun to explore it but already I feel about it much as Jeromai felt about the last one, the one that came with the final episode of LS4, a map that interested me so much I can't even remember what it was called. All of the LS4 maps blur into one for me. I visited most of them only once or twice, in the few days following the release, then never thought of them again.

Grothmar Valley is not that map. Last night I heaved myself reluctantly away from WoW Classic to check out the new content. Even given the appallingly botched build-up I was still keener to see it than anything from LS4 simply beacuase I knew it centered on Rytlock, my favorite character, and took place somewhere in the Charr homelands, my favorite setting.

The opening sequence offered more entetainment than I've been used to getting from these things. The dialog was solid. Rytlock sounded wonderfully world-weary and put-upon. He has history with several of the new Charr characters (well, they were new to me but I'm hardly a lorekeeper), history that was alluded to and hinted at rather than outright infodumped.

So far, so not too bad. The first new area was nicely done. It looked as though it could be some festival ground adjacent to The Black Citadel although a glance at the world map showed it to be deeper into the Charr homelands than we'd been before.

There were some speeches, one fight - an easy and enjoyable one - and that was the end of part one. Then that loading screen appeared. Loading between maps in GW2 is excruciatingly slow. Slower than EverQuest was at the turn of the millennium - on dial-up. I had plenty of time to look, slack-jawed, at the psychedelic finger-painting someone's talented, precocious child had apparently uploaded when no-one was looking.

Then I zoned in and found it was all true! Grothmar Valley uses the color palette I loved so much in the core game that I wrote an elegaic post about it way back in October 2012. That post was tellingly titled "This Land Is Our Land" and in it I laid my claim to a homeland I'd long longed for:  "Every step is filled with wonder. The high summer idyll of the pre-Searing has ripened into an eternal Autumn, the fall after The Fall. The colors burnish with copper and gold, red poppies flag against the sunburned grasslands, white clouds mass the bluing sky.".

I was still in love with Ascalon three and a half years later, when I posted the even more emotionally charged picture-post "Why We Fight". In these two posts it's all too easy to see why I can't give this game up and why I feel so betrayed by what's been lost.

Well, with Grothmar Valley I have hope that some of the wonder may just have bene lying dormant. With a return to Ascalon and it's hinterlands, a whole "saga" set there and in the Far Shiverpeaks, my second-favorite region, it's possible... just possible... I might find myself falling in love with GW2 all over again.

If nothing else, in Grothmar Valley I at least have a map I'm certain to explore to the full and to revisit many times. I don't care whehter it's productive or profitable or any of the things both developers and players have been laser-focused on in new maps for the last two or three years. I just care what it looks like and how it feels.

Discovering Grothmar Valley is like finding another room in your house that you didn't know was there. For the first time in a very, very long while I'll be opening access to this map on all three of my acounts. (To my great surprise and joy you only need core game purchase to flag Bound By Blood for the account).

Not, that is, that I'm going to play through the whole thing right away. Classic is still using most of my available gaming synapses. No, I just want Grothmar Valley safe and secure in my pocket, so I can take it out any time I like, look at it, polish it, lose myself in its golden glow.

Grothmar Valley represents hope. And I have it.


  1. Those shots are indeed beautiful, especially the first two.

    This is what SWG's Corellia might have looked like if the game had had a post-millenial engine, so that's another plus. :-)

    1. It looks even better in game than the screenshots!

  2. Ascalon is home. Those golden fields have signaled home since GW1 tutorial, which is why the Searing had such an impact on people.

    I love the density of dynamic events on this map too, feels like a high level Plains of Ashford or Diessa. Map design is great, rewards exploration, been finding a lot of chests and ancient coins in the most out of the way places (including up a tree.)

    I am especially tickled with Aurene’s Grace, which I remember rhapsodizing about Erana’s Grace from Quest for Glory some time way back when they did a similar thing with Lake Doric’s peach tree. It’s like, oh, you like that? Here, have it MOAR, writ large.

    The whole Prologue has been a joy to play through as a Blood Legion charr with a sorcerous sire.

    (Of course, I did manage to run into a stalled instance where the NPC conversation refused to go further, but on relogging and re-entering, it worked the second time. Wouldn’t be Anet without a few bugs.)

    Strikes worry me. Reddit is on fire complaining that they are too easy; my one anecdotal experience so far has been joining a Public group late in the day in an EU timezone on an NA server, when we chose to start with 8-9 people. We lost one or two people through the JP, winding up with 7 at the boss. I made a strategic error choosing to weaken my dps slightly by taking a CC spirit hammer instead of the meta spirit sword (who knew there were no breakbars?!) and didn’t bother with food because PUG. At the end of it, it was basically 2-3 of us whittling down the boss slowly while the other half kept getting downed. We lost one bonus chest but did get a successful kill.

    I think, as a start, this is perfectly fine a difficulty to be tuned at. There are patently people having difficulty even surviving. If they fail, they’re just going to leave and never come back. Yet the boss is capable of being 1-3 low manned by stronger players, so they can drag the whole group kicking and screaming to success if need be, and are not discouraged by joining a public group knowing there’s a high chance of failure. By watching the stronger players, there is the hope that the weaker players will eventually get the hang of the mechanics so far. For more socially minded stronger players, there is also the challenge of being able to solo and singlehandedly carry a group to success if needed.

    I hope Anet really looks and tracks the data on this one and ramps up only when the majority of the GW2 population can handle it, not just the Reddit population.

    1. It's exceptionally rare for any content in an MMORPG to be made more challenging because of player complaints, unless it turns out it was actually bugged. Everything almost always gets nerfed, partiularly in GW2, where the solution to not being able to do anything has always been to go away and do something else for a week or two then come back when it's been nerfed.

      That said, with ANet you never really know. They are horribly reactive. I haven't tried Strikes and wasn't planning on it but if they're that easy I might so eventually. I also haven't dug into Bound by Blood yet, thanks to WoW Classic. I did see in the trailer that the new map has two dozen events. That's very encouraging. Certainly were plenty popping when I was running around taking screenshots.

      Not sure when I'm going to get around to it. Maybe this weekend.


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