Monday, October 5, 2020

Fodder For The Cannons : GW2

I finally finished the original "personal story" in Guild Wars 2.  It only took me eight years. 

It wasn't entirely new to me. I had seen the ending before. The original ending, that is. 

Back at launch, Mrs. Bhagpuss was far more diligent about completing the narrative than I was. It's hard to imagine now but in the first few months the personal story was considered by many to be quite challenging. There were plenty of complaints about the difficulty on the forums and it was common to hear people venting about it in general chat.

The accepted solution to getting over humps back then was to invite a friend into your story instance to give you a leg-up. Even while my own progress lagged far behind, I experienced several flash-forwards as I jumped into various scenarios to lend someone a hand. 

ArenaNet invested very heavily in story from the beginning. There's a complicated, branching structure to the narrative that allows for a wide number of beginnings based on choices of race, class and several other factors. 

Ok, Princess, you take that cannon to the left...


Over the years I've done quite a few of the openings but to see every possible variation you'd need to be a true story obsessive. According to the extensive wiki entry, there are three hundred and eight personal story missions in total and because of their mutually exclusive structure it would take thirty unique characters to play through all of them.

Here's the breakdown of how that would go:

  • Thirty characters have to play through the chapter I and II missions.
  • Fifteen must play through chapter III.
  • Nine must play through chapter V.
  • Six must play through chapter VII.
  • Three must play through until the last mission prior to Against the Corruption, in chapter VIII.
  • Two must play through the two missions after that one.
  • And, one must play through the end of the storyline.

Until now I've always given up at the end of the infamous Battle of Claw Island which concludes Chapter VI. I think I've done that five or six times, at least a couple of which were in full groups. 

After that the narrative moves to Orr. Orr was originally designed as the PvE endgame for GW2 and a lot of players used to be nervous about it. Even though, in its original conception, grouping wasn't required until the final showdown with the elder dragon Zhaitan, a mandatory five-person group instance, it was accepted practice to do much of the final act with other people.

Reservoir Dogs has a lot to answer for.


I did much of it that way then, helping other people to complete their characters' stories. It suited me to jump in and provide muscle or healing or just be there to revive someone when they fell down. I didn't have to follow the tedious, poorly-written plot or make any of the dull, uninvolving choices. I just accepted the invite and followed along like an NPC.

Mrs Bhagpuss eventually made it to the final battle with Zhaitan. I remember it being chaotic, loud, confusing and stressful. It must have made quite an impact because I have a surprisingly detailed, if fragmented, memory of it nearly a decade later. 

My chief recollection is a lot of running, a lot of explosions, a dragon you see but never really get to fight and having to spend most of my time firing a big cannon without getting killed. The whole thing has remained in my mind ever since as almost the very definition of an anti-climax. You put in all that effort, weeks of plowing through interminable, plodding missions and that's the payoff?

It's not surprising I never bothered to finish it up for myself. Or perhaps it is. I ground my way grudgingly and bitterly through season after season of the dismal Living Story, didn't I? Okay, the first two look pretty good in retrospect and all of them had their moments but the third and fourth, with those increasingly drawn-out, over-fussy boss fights and any internal consistency the storyline ever claimed to have spiralling out of sight...

Zojja! Where've you been hiding yourself? We missed you!


I always had it in mind to finish the dumb thing up one day, though. And it was always going to be on my first character, the Charr ranger. He started it all. He can damn well finish it!

And now he has. On his own. Personally. Like the name says.

Yes, someone at ANet did finally acknowledge that something called a "Personal Story" should probably be able to be completed by that person alone. At some point, I forget when and the wiki is suprisingly silent on the subject, the whole final battle with Zhaitan was revamped to be completable solo. Well, solo and with the might of the entire Pact, naturally. But NPCs don't count, even if there are thousands of them.

I imagine you can still take a group in if you want to. There are plenty of cannons. You could have one each and there'd be some left over. You certainly don't need the help but it might be nice to have someone to talk to during the longeurs.

The difficulty of the whole of Act Three seems to have been toned down a lot since last I did any of it. Either that or power creep has taken the sting out of it. GW2 doesn't really do power creep the way other MMORPGs do, though, so it's probably not that.

It still takes a good old while to churn through the missions to get to the ending but not only did my ranger never die, he never even got downed. Not once. And I certainly wasn't playing him particularly well. I was barely paying attention half the time.

Who reads dialog like this? Who even writes it?


For the final battle you have to get yourself to the entrance of the Ruined City of Arah dungeon. Back in the day, that in itself was a fairly difficult proposition. It's right at the very end of the third and hardest of the Orr maps and ownership changes hands between players and Zhaitan's minions, the Risen, depending on the outcome of the meta event.

I remember having to fight my way up there a few times and not always making it. I know it was never a straightforward click of a waypoint. Well, not until now. 

I don't know if I was just lucky with the way the meta was going (amazingly, after eight years the Orr metas are still routinely, if sporadically, contested) or whether there's been some change made to make it easier to access the final story instance. Whatever it was, I had no problem just waypointing there when I needed to get started.

The final battle, when I eventually fought it, was pretty close to what I remember from all those years ago. There was a lot of running. There were plenty of explosions. I spent much of my time manning various artillery pieces. 

Zhaitan, when he finally appeared, was more impressive than I remembered. I'd always thought you didn't get a really good look at him but I think that probably had more to do with the ongoing chaos of the group instance and the fact that I was always trying to keep up with what other people were doing.



Left to my own devices I had plenty of opportunity to gawp at the ludicrous and repulsive patchwork of bones and gristle stitched to gether by Anet's excellent art team to represent the motive force capable of raising an entire continent of zombies. And take a whole folio of screenshots.

I'd not realized just how disturbing the final fight is. Based on the dialog I think we're supposed to feel joyous and triumphal at the end but I felt kind of nauseated. 

Zhaitan flies to and fro, somewhat ineffectually, for a while before a shot from the mega-cannon Zojja's been charging up nails him somewhere in the lower spine. The rear third or so of his brittle body breaks off and a huge gout of green fluid jets out into space. 

The critically-injured dragon manages to make it to a tower of some kind, where he clings desperately like an injured gecko while you as the player character pump round after round of energy bolts into him from a deck cannon until eventually he loses his grip and spirals, screaming, into the abyss.

It's more like a messy day at the slaughterhouse than a grand battle. If it was a superhero comic or movie it would also betoken an absolutely inevitable Return of Zhaitan, becuase you neither see him die nor find (or even search for) his body. If it wasn't that we haven't heard a whisper from any of the dragons we've killed over the eight years the game's been running, I'd definitely be expecting a rematch. Maybe in GW3.

Hey! I think we're just about to get to that! Thanks for waiting.


The immediate ending is extremely anti-climactic, just as I remembered, with everyone standing around with nothing much to say. That's not the finale, though. Back when I did it in a group I made my excuses and left once the dragon was down so I missed the coda, a victory celebration that takes place back at the Pact headquarters in Fort Trinity.

To be truthful, there's not much to that either but at least there's some cheering and a few fireworks. Plus the rewards, of course, some Exotics that were probably pretty good in 2012. And there were a few skins I hadn't unlocked. Not that I'll ever use any of them. I also now understand just why everyone's so down on Trahearne. Geez, that guy's a wet blanket.

Anyway, it's over and at least I can say I've done it. Finished the personal story, that is. Well, one of them. Only three hundred and seven to go. 

Nah, I don't think so.

I guess what I probably should do next is map completion, the other achievement that supposedly marked having "beaten the game" back in the day. That would be down to the Charr ranger, too. He's gotten further than anyone. He's currently at 72%.

Yeah, I'll get right on that. Probably only take me another couple of years.


  1. I'm mired somewhere in Orr as well. Every time I get on and go back to Orr, I end up sneaking around for a bit and not doing much. Honestly, that's the one thing about the GW2 storyline that annoys me: there's very little motivation to keep going at certain points in the story. You keep moving, you plateau, and then.... you have to kind of force yourself to keep going again.

    1. And for what it's worth, the dialogue and writing in GW2's story leaves a lot to be desired in the same way that it annoyed me so freaking much in WoW. It's as if nobody ever read what they were writing out loud, which helps immeasurably when writing dialogue. If it sounds clunky when you recite it, it's probably clunky.

    2. I almost centered the post on the "quality" of the writing in the personal story. It's very poor. I don't think I noticed at the time just how poor. Some of it is almost embarassing. It absolutely does sound as though no-one ever read it aloud... except that it's voice-acted! Someone literally *is* reading it aloud!

      I wouldn't say GW2's writing is anything special even now but you can see how much the standard has improved by the way the recent couple of episodes manage to work pretty well even without any voice. In the original game it's the voice actors who carry pretty much the entire load.

  2. I aggressively lost interest in the plot when I realized Trahearne was the real main character. As I recall, there's a scene where your character is almost assassinated and the reaction from others is "An assassin? I don't believe it! Someone must be trying to kill Trahearne!"

    Since when I lose interest in a game's plot, I lose interest in the game itself, I uninstalled directly after that cutscene and haven't been back since.

    1. I never really knew who Trahearne was supposed to be. I think he's significant in the Sylvari personal story but I only have a couple of Sylvari and I never got far with their narratives. I don't have a problem with the focus being on characters other than the player character - I'd happily have Rytlock as the center of every plotline - but Trahearne is just so downbeat and dull. It's hard to figure out what the writers were thinking by using him as the peg to hang the story on.

  3. Wow, they finally fixed that to be soloable huh? I remember a part in that last mission a door needs two levers pulled at the same time to open (by two separate players) and I thought to myself "guess that's the built in F.U. to solo players, courtesy of ArenaNet."

    Not that you could enter the instance with less than five to begin with. Stupid design for the win. I absolutely HATE forced groups like that.

    Doesn't matter if its an MMO, if you want to solo content and have the skill to do so, the game better let you.


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