Monday, February 28, 2022

Waiting For The End

The third expansion for Guild Wars 2, End of Dragons, is due to drop sometime today. Actually, now I come to think about it, it might be here already. I haven't tried logging in to find out. I suppose I should do that, just to be sure.

Yeah, nope. Back to what I was saying.

It's difficult to say how much of an impact on my gaming priorities EoD might have. In spite of all the negative things I say about it, GW2 is still the mmorpg I play most often. Every day, in fact. It holds its place mostly by being an astonishingly comfortable gaming experience, particularly in a purely physical sense. 

I don't believe I've ever played any game where the basic act of controlling the characters felt so autonomic. There's so little distance between thought and action as my GW2 characters move around their world. The facility of it, alone, makes it my game of choice whenever I just want to play without having to think about playing.

Contrast that with Chimeraland or Lost Ark, where I regularly have to look at the keyboard to see where my fingers ought to be. No matter how much I may enjoy those games, there's always a meniscus between my world and theirs, one which doesn't seem to exist in other games, not only GW2 but also EverQuest, EverQuest II, World of Warcraft, Rift, really any number of older titles I could list, all of which have similar control systems.

That gives End of Dragons a running start. How far I get, how long I stay and especially how i feel about it all will likely depend more on what gets in my way rather than what there is to see and do. That was the problem with Path of Fire. It wasn't so much that the content was poor, although I did find some of it quite unappealing; it was much more the way in which it was delivered.

Whereas Heart of Thorns, which I loved, seemed to be built around a series of easily-understood progression mechanics that came smoothly together to form a gestalt, Path of Fire always felt to me like a whole bunch of unrelated ideas loosely bolted together and trying their damnedest to come apart. I never really knew what I was doing or why. Often as not, I still didn't, even after I'd done it.

Much worse than the fragmented approach were the endless obstacles that seemed to block my way at every turn. It was just impossible to relax or have fun anywhere, at any time. That can work in concentrated sessions but it doesn't make for good entertainment over the course of weeks and months of gaming.

I haven't been following the promotion for EoD all that closely but what I have seen does look to have a more laid-back feel than the desperate, frenetic Path of Fire. PoF came at the end of a narrative arc that was clearly leading towards some kind of violent conclusion. End of Dragons, by contrast, arrives in a comparative lull. I'm not convinced anyone even knows why we're going to Cantha, other than "Because it's there".

In a few hours the gates will open and we'll be able to see for ourselves. Good or bad, fun or frustrating, I can all but guarantee I'll be spending most of my time there for a while. It'll give me something to write about, if nothing else.

In the meantime, while I wait for the starting gun, I've been passing the time by playing some more Lost Ark. I ran through some quests this morning, one of which I found very entertaining, the other a lot less so. My enjoyment of each ran in inverse proportion to their relative significance to the overarching plot, emphasizing once again where I feel such strengths as the game has might lie.

The one I liked was a linked series of half a dozen or so quests in Castle Luterra, not a single one of which seemed remotely appropriate to my character's exalted status as King's Knight. I spent half a session jogging around the vast fortress, delivering flowers, talking to chefs, sneaking peaks inside women's handbags and generally acting like some kind of low-level amanuensis to a self-centered, delusional brat.

Some of the dialog was hilarious, freighted with irony and entirely deliberately so, it seemed, considering some other aspects of Lost Ark's design. I wish I'd taken some screenshots other than just the one above. Normally I would have snapped a picture of all the best lines but I was planning on writing a completely different post today so you'll just have to take my word for it - it was well-written, sharp and funny.

It was also fun, relaxing and very easy, only one of which I can also say about the big quest I did immediately afterwards. That one was clearly intended to be a big, set-piece finish to a major story arc in the MSQ. For those who've already done it, I'm talking about the King's Tomb sequence, a very lengthy segment culminating in the acquisition of the first of the titular lost arks.

My god, it was tedious! I've done some very dull, boring instances in my time, almost all of them in GW2's Living World,  especially during Seasons Three and Four, but this was right up there with any of them. If there's one thing I absolutely detest in these kind of instances, it's when you have to repeat the same set of actions again and again, presumably in the mistaken belief that what all players really want to do is emulate water wearing away stone.

In this case that didn't just mean the usual industrial-scale slaughter of grunt mobs interspersed with annoyingly resilient mini-bosses, although of course there was all of that as well. The really boring part came at the end, where you're tasked with going round and round and round a spiral staircase, fighting the same blasted demon at every landing, flipping the same lever, jumping the same gap then meeting him on the next level for yet another go.

It felt like it took several days although the clock said it was only about a quarter of an hour. At no point was any of it exciting, thrilling, involving, entertaining or even mildly interesting. The only thing I will say in its favor was it was gloriously easy. That alone made it bearable. ArenaNet could learn some lessons there. 

By the end of it my character was Level 32 and the structure of the rest of the levelling game had been made clear: you found one ark, now go find five more, all over the world. It's a framework, I'll give them that. I just hope the rest of the arks are hidden somewhere more interesting than at the top of a never-ending set of steps.

Harking back to the observation I made at the start of the post about the intrinsically intuitive, fluid way GW2 lets me to control my characters, I spent a good deal of time in Lost Ark frantically trying to close pop-up windows I'd opened by mistake mid-fight. That happens often. Pressing a lot of keys in a hurry tends to result in fat finger errors.

In Guild Wars 2 I could use the keyboard for combat if I wanted but I choose not to. Using the mouse pointer and hotbars feels so much more natural. One thing that galls me about Lost Ark is that it has both hot bars and a free cursor but it won't let me use them together. Even out of combat, when you can click on icons and see them respond, they don't actually do anything. I'd enjoy the game a whole lot more and fight a whole lot better if they did.

Other than playing Lost Ark, I spent the rest of the morning running through another of the Next Fest demos. It was a short one. It only took me forty minutes and I spent at least ten of them trying to figure out how to take screenshots. 

I was going to review it today but somehow I wrote this instead. If I end up posting about it tomorrow that'll probably tell you everything you need to know about End of Dragons and none of it will be good. Here's hoping it doesn't happen.


  1. The thing about the unresponsive hotbars baffles me a bit.

    I admittedly haven't tried to klick any of the left hand side buttons (i.e. the combat abilities) with the mouse, but I definitely can klick my mount or song of return on the right hand side hotbar to activate them just fine.

  2. What an interesting review!
    btw, you can download Guild Wars 2, End of Dragons on to enjoy many versions as well as Guide file of this game!


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