Friday, March 4, 2022

End Of Dragons: The Story So Far

has a timely post up on the ever-controversial topic of spoilers. It's something that's been very much on my mind these last few days, as I play through the storyline of Guild Wars 2's third expansion, End of Dragons

Since I've been rigorous in avoiding any information about the story from any source, official or otherwise, I'm not even sure how far into the narrative I am but if I had to guess, I'd say probably around half way. I spent pretty much the whole day yesterday going through chapter after chapter, finishing up somewhere in the third map.

The story is much better than I was expecting. It might even be the strongest sustained narrative the game's had, although I realise that's a low bar. It feels much more focused and controlled than usual, with fewer digressions and follies. For once, it also feels much more like a true GW2 storyline, rather than something designed to appeal primarily to veterans of the original Guild Wars, ironic considering where it sits inside the much-ballyhooed return to Cantha.

There are aspects I'd love to examine in detail but even to allude to what those might be would be reduce the impact they have when they occur in game. It's like when someone tells you a movie has a twist towards the end - even knowing the twist exists reduces or even nullifies its effectiveness as a narrative device.

At this point I ought to make it clear that I have absolutely no problem with spoilers per se. I think normal social and cultural convention currently requires consideration and empathy in the way we discuss these things in public spaces and private conversations but I believe that when it comes to more formalised discussions, from published reviews to ad hoc discussions on blogs or social media, the responsiblity lies primarily with the consumer not the producer. Put simply, if you don't want to see spoilers, don't read reviews.

Reviewers should be free to discuss any aspect of the work they're reviewing in whatever detail they feel necessary to make the points they wish to make. I would make a small exception for reviews that are given live over traditional broadcast media like radio or television, on the grounds that anyone could tune in at any time, unawares, but other than that all bets should be off.

In keeping once again with cultural norms, I'd expect a clear Spoiler warning at the beginning of any such review and an absence of reveals in any headline that might appear independent of the review or discussion itself, but once the reader or viewer or listener has made the decision to proceed, any complaint about the experience having been "spoiled" by any specific revelation becomes null and void.

On that basis, I could write a post going into full detail about why I've been so pleasantly surprised by the writing in End of Dragons. I could explain why the story is working for me this time in a way it hasn't for many years, if indeed ever. I could give examples using the screenshots I've taken for that specific purpose. So long as I begin the post with a sufficiently stern and strident Spoiler Alert I'm good to go.

And I'd really like to give my thoughts on the story so far. I'd love to get some of the things I've been thinking and feeling down on paper, as it were, while they're still fresh in my mind. So why am I not doing that?

It's because it's too soon. Not too soon for people who read this blog, who might not yet have started on the story; too soon because I haven't  finished yet. Talking about stories before they're over isn't review or criticism; it's gossip. 

Not that there's anything wrong with gossip. Gossip serves a number of important cultural and even biological purposes. It's just not something that's best served up longform in a blog post. If I wanted to gossip I'd be on Twitter.

No, the reason I'm not putting up Spoiler warnings ahead of my dissertation on the End of Dragons storyline is that I don't know where it's going. I can't write with authority on things that may turn out to have meanings I don't yet know. All I can say at the moment is that the plot is sufficiently coherent to allow me to believe that, just for once, it might be worth finding out how it ends.

And, honestly, I'm gunshy. I'd really hate to spend several thousand words praising the writing, only to have those words thrown back in my face when it all falls apart at the finish. Wouldn't be the first time and I did have my first moment of doubt last night but to have that faltering step come as late as halfway through does seem like some kind of triumph in itself, at least by local standards.

One thing I can talk about without concern for spoilage is the way the storyline gates certain features and their masteries. It's a practice common to mmorpgs, not just GW2, and it's one I really don't appreciate. 

On the positive side, most of the features of the expansion open relatively early in the narrative. It may even be possible to acquire some of them outside of the storyline, although I'm not at all sure about that. I think I had fishing before it was introduced in the story and I was able to buy and use a skiff before the story made me use one but I think it was only the storyline that opened the Mastery tracks needed to make those features more than nominally functional.

It seems to me that an expansion that's promoted on the basis of a range of features should provide all of those features separately. Conversely, if a feature is only available as part of another feature, in this case the story, that should made clear in the sales pitch. 

It's entirely reasonable to imagine someone wanting to have the Skiff and Fishing masteries purely to use in the pre-EoD zones, something the pre-launch publicity emphasized would be possible. Why such a player should be pushed through the narrative to a certain point to acquire access to features they'd paid for isn't clear to me.

As I said, though, I'm not even sure that's the case. I simply haven't played enough End of Dragons to be sure. As Belghast said in a recent post on the difficulty of reviewing video games, games take far, far more time to come to terms with than other media like movies, music or even books. 

Mmorpgs probably take the longest of all. It's going to take hundreds of hours of play before I can be absolutely certain what I think about EoD. At this stage, a few days in, it's just too early to conclude whether it's is a "good" expansion or not. That's something only time will confirm. 

I feel safe in saying Heart of Thorns was a "good" expansion because after seven years I'm still playing the content and enjoying features it introduced. Similarly, I can call Path of Fire a "bad" expansion because I do all I can to avoid everything it added to the game and accept those things I can't do without only with seething resentment. 

A month after PoF arrived I assessed it as "Perfectly, unambitious and a little bit obvious." A lukewarm take that later curdled, as I suspected it might: "Expansions need to have staying power. I'm not convinced Path of Fire does".

Let's see how I feel about End of Dragons a month from now. Then a year. Then five years. 

Coming to judgment on the story of End of Dragons, however, will happen much faster, especially at the rate I'm burning through the chapters. When I get to the end I will know if it was good or bad or something inbetween. And then I'll be able to write about it, spoilers and all.

I'm looking forward to it.


  1. I consider myself a Guild Wars veteran. I never cared much for Cantha. I liked shing jae island and I loved the jade sea music. Other than that, the only positive of Cantha was that you could level faster than in prophecies.

    I wonder how much of the love for Cantha is real love or just a reaction to Anet not wanting to do it due to not wanting to offend the Chinese market.

    1. I have all the GW expansions but the only ones I really know are Prophecies, which I've finished twice, and Eye of the North, of which I've done about three-quarters. I've played through the first few levels of Nightfall but the one that's set in Cantha, Factions, I don't believe I've ever even started. In fact, until I looked it up just now, I didn't even realise Factions was the Cantha one.

      I've never really understood what the deal was with Cantha and it's certainly too late to go back and find out now. I'm just glad the GW2 version is a strong entry in its own right. It feels like much less of a call-back than Path of Fire so far - one of the things I really disliked about that one was the all-pervading sense that you needed to have done all the GW content to understand it. I don't get that feeling at all from EoD.

  2. About the skiff and fishing. I have only done the first step of the story and I both have tier 2 mastery on both skiff and fishing (don't have more because after completing the first map haven't got more eod xp) . Don't know if the other masteries require the story or just travelling to the other maps.

    1. I definitely got Fishing when I was exploring. It does come up in the story but I already had it by then, could use it and had access to the Mastery line, although I hadn't done anything with it yet. On the other hand, I bought a skiff from a vendor before it came up in the story but it wasn't until I got to the relevant story step and the big Mastery Acquired window popped up that I was able to summon it. That might well be because I'd missed something, though. I'd be surprised if the story was the only way to get these features, to be honest. It's probably just the most obvious.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide