Confusion and Delay
I’ve recently been posed a question by GuildMag and wanted to take some time to answer it, as it’s been a constant topic of conversation between my wife and myself. You’re all there right now, I’m sure, looking back after the defeat of Scarlet Briar. The questions is: “What was the first Living World season like for you?”
Well, to be honest, I was very confused when I heard the term “Living Story,” and I was exactly sure what to think of it. Were they to be progressive updates with a purpose? Perhaps they would be more akin to a TV series where everything and everyone constantly changes (my mind goes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Maybe this was their way of giving us an expansion full of work over a period of time! Imagine the potential; imagine the possibilities.
It seems I was mostly wrong on all fronts, with a hint of accuracy.
Shadow of the Mad King had shown us that things were not necessarily permanent. The Lion’s Arch statue cracked and crumbled, until Thorn was released–something I completely missed due to the approach of a single-timed event. Over time, ArenaNet learned that one-time events were not the way to go (although it took the Karka Queen to see how much of a problem this was). To be honest, I didn’t even care for these Living Story updates at first because they gave me very little reason to buy into it. . Sure, I played around, but I didn’t touch anything and even left the game for a while when Dragon Bash was released.
We were introduced to Braham and Rox in Flame and Frost, which I actually really enjoyed. It engaged me, but the story felt thin. I had no clue why we were meeting these people. “Wait and see” didn’t really catch me. In my line of work, telling people to “wait and see” often turns into a lack of engagement from the consumers. The mistake being made by ArenaNet is that we were already completely sold to everything they were doing–a poor assumption for any company.
Still, I waited. I tried to see. I kept my eyes open for what was happening, even during my hiatus–something about “E,” Aetherblades, a Captain’s Council, and Mai Trin. The part that I did jump in for, I didn’t feel compelled in the slightest to go near it. Minor character developments of NPCs we had no need to connect with, who didn’t link in with the already existing story (which the vast majority of good tales always manage to link things into the greater scheme).
I rarely am this negatively critical of things, but bear with me. My frustrations came because there was very little story to be told. There was nothing that drew us in. The Living Story hadn’t gained traction. No, instead, it was (up to this point) a series of games and festivals without direction, with some meaningless characters that I would blatantly say that up until one specific update, were all poorly connected and poorly written. I don’t mean that offensively, but it ought to have been quicker; more successive; more engaging for a person’s main.
Overall, there was a huge lack of clarity from ArenaNet on what the Living Story was to be. Think of it: We beat Zhaitan, bested some of Tyria’s most fearsome creatures. Now, all of us mighty heroes are playing games with Thorn and Tixx, meeting some large-eyed Charr (who I actually loved how she looked, right from the beginning), and some random Fabio-style son of Eir? It just didn’t fit with me. I may love Rox and Braham now, but I wasn’t impressed at first.
Sure, the Living Story updates also had something (<–see what I did there?) that scared the Karka on to Southsun which was a welcome addition, but I would need to write another blog post on Southsun as a whole–which I have no intention of doing, so you won’t hear much from me on that.
As time went on, I tried to log in and connect with each Living Story update. I felt confused no matter how much I read, or tried to experience and see. I was disheartened; this beautiful game that captured my heart more than even Lord of the Rings Online ever had… let me down. I was hurt; betrayed; heartbroken. Yes, those are harsh words, but I believed in Guild Wars 2 more than any other game out there. I blog about this game because I’m passionate about it, but it took a long time to get traction–just like the Living Story.
As time went on, we experienced the Bazaar of the Four Winds–and it was beautiful. Still, there was no traction or depth. Yes, we had an impending election for Evon Gnashblade or Ellen Kiel (who, if you voted for her, I’ll accept an apology of 1 gold piece per person for voting for the wrong one). Yes, the Bazaar was one of my favourite updates, but there was no true story. Cutthroat Politics added some small progress, but up to this point, everything was just baby steps that infuriated people more than engaged them. We live in a quick-paced world with a “Microwave Generation,” as I term it, who like things to be quick and accessible. Taking time to develop and grow characters and a story is acceptable, but this was too long. They wanted to explore a lot of things happening at once, but it was just spread too thin, and lacked the depth it needed.
The Game Changed
Ok, not the game itself, but something seemed different. The Queen’s Jubilee was exciting for many (and contained some ‘hardcore’ content), but what was yet to come in Clockwork Chaos was even more exciting for me. Queen Jennah was attacked, a crazy woman named Scarlet Briar was behind it all, and her twisted machinations come forth as a new and interesting switch to game mechanics, being required to use finishers on monsters. It was exciting. It was thrilling. I was jittering (ask my wife, she laughed at me as I was on the edge of my seat, finally seeing something noteworthy happening!). Finally, the Living Story was gaining traction!
Then it stopped. Super Adventure Box (which was fun), something about Tequatl, and finally we came back to the Tower of Nightmares, the Nightmares Within, along with a few seasonal updates happening. To be honest, it all felt chaotic and directionless to me. It’s not that they did a bad job, but they needed to try, take risks, and make mistakes. This is exactly what they did, and it led us to where we are today.
- We have a destroyed tower in Kessex Hills
- A reminder of what has happened.
- We have a new Fractal
- A reminder of promises fulfilled.
- We have a new heroine, Taimi, who is loved by many
- A sign of progress in writing.
- We have a new WvW “buffer zone” called the Edge of the Mists
- A potential sign that ArenaNet has eyes on WvW.
- We have a new PvP map called Skyhammer
- A potential sign that ArenaNet has focus on PvP.
- We have several bosses redone to supposedly be more challenging and offer an olive branch to raid-type content
- An attempt to appeal to the ‘hardcore’ players.
- We’ve had Origins of Madness, Edge of the Mists, Escape From Lion’s Arch, and Battle for Lion’s Arch to finally draw us into what’s really happening in Tyria at this time with Scarlet.
I honestly felt like nothing worthwhile happened in the story until the Origins of Madness. Finally we get to see what this strange, seemingly psychotic, Sylvari is all about. We encountered her in the Nightmare Tower, but that still didn’t seem to cut it for me. It all felt poorly-handled, planned for too much time, and only offered major character development in the last bit. Progress took a long time, and they took a lot of risks in order to get to where they are today. Yet I believe ArenaNet has learned and grown from these risks. I mean, all things have a right to grow, right?
We often assume that a video game company knows exactly what it’s doing, but what have I learned so far in life? “We all have no clue what we’re doing, and the rest of us are faking it.” This isn’t to say there aren’t experts in life, but I find myself trying to have a lot of patience and grace for people (and companies), as someone shouldn’t be put on too high of a pedestal in my eyes, lest I get disappointed. Maybe it’s my cynicism that seemed to pay off in the end of the Living Story.
The Story to be Told
I loved these past few updates of the Living Story. 2014 marked the beginning of an astounding adventure and journey (yes, it took that long to feel like it began) in our war on Scarlet. Finally, Asmund was a hero. Finally, characters were getting more depth (many of you love Marjory and Kasmeer but I can’t stand either of them as characters). Finally, I felt like I was finally having a hand in what was taking place in Tyria. Asmund doesn’t have to be the center of everything, but why did I feel for so long like any of my characters were completely unrelated to anything taking place? Why did I feel left in the dark for so long? Instead of keeping me guessing, they left me disheartened for a long time.
Yet, I’ve put in more hours in the Living Story up to this point in 2014 than I did in any update all-together! They’re starting to get it right. All of the information we had been given was for a purpose.
- Flame and Frost
- Scarlet built the Breachmaker, which allowed her to tunnel to disrupt the leylines and wake up Mordremoth.
- Nightmare Within
- Toxic Miasma, which kept everyone out of Lion’s Arch so she could enact her plan, uninterrupted.
- Sky Pirates of Tyria/Edge of the Mists
- Scarlet hid her machination in the Mists to be hidden until it was unleashed on Lion’s Arch.
- Origins of Madness
- Her Twisted Marionette was just a test for what would surge through the leylines.
Much of the story finally pulled together. Characters have pulled together, struggling, wrestling between decisions (should Rox keep striving for her warband? What about this scandalous thing with Braham? Will Marjory open up her own form of Angel Investigations [another shameless Joss Whedon plug]). There was pain, as we saw with Kasmeer and Marjory. There was frustration, as we still don’t stop hearing from Evon Gnashblade, or from Ellen Kiel. Slowly, we’re starting to have an effect on Tyria.
My hope is that as time goes on, we’ll have a greater impact. I want to see the world change. I want my game to be disrupted because Tyria has gone to hell in a handbasket, and I’m forced to do something about it. If it’s a Living Story and a Living World, then the change needs to be more frequent and more prominent. We’re on a good path. Heck, I would’ve been happy had Lion’s Arch even been destroyed for good (I have the feeling we’ll rebuild it somehow). Yet after this journey, I’m finally sold. Ever since Origins of Madness, I’ve embraced where they’re going. Unlike a lot of people I talk to, I loved Scarlet. I felt like Harley Quinn was the villain (if you didn’t know, she was voiced by Tara Strong, who also actually did the voice for Harley Quinn in several Batman: Arkham games). To see chaos ensue, method come to her madness, and to watch my character be praised by the group of heroic NPCs we’ve been getting to know? I was pleased.
Now with a tease for what’s yet to come, I’m even more excited. Yes, there have been a lot of disheartening moments, but I think ArenaNet’s risks and mistakes are finally leading into their learning how to handle things better. As a gamer, blogger, and passionate lover of Guild Wars 2…
May 2014 be the year of the greatest Living Story ever told.