Don’t let the title mislead you – I am very much enjoying Guild Wars 2! I still have a lot of fun playing, I still look forward to each new update, and I still adore ArenaNet and their work. That said, I demonstrate my love of the game often enough on this blog – in fact, half my posts and fangirl ramblings about why I think the people complaining are wrong, why I think ArenaNet’s decisions work. Even a fangirl can be critical sometimes, though (if she’s doing it right), and after a year of sometimes dramatic development and adjustment, there are some things I wouldn’t have done the same.
I love the idea of the living story, and I think the pace and quality of updates that ArenaNet has achieved (let’s all take a moment to recall how far they came between Flame and Frost and Sky Pirates) is excellent and deserves recognition. Despite the fact that I’m enjoying the frequent updates, however, I haven’t been fond of the direction in which the living story has been taken. To be fair, this is going to be down to personal taste somewhat, and as I hate people who complain about not being personally catered to 100% of the time, I certainly won’t do that here. I think there are some legitimate criticisms, though.
Lore is something which not everyone is concerned about, but those who are tend to be very concerned with it. The living story has taken a heavily technology/steampunk-focused route which, while supported by the lore in theory, breaks dramatically with what we’re exposed to in the rest of the game. I don’t have a problem with portraying the world moving forward – in fact in theory, I’m a fan of the idea. Still, a long time ago I highlighted how many loose ends and plot hooks Guild Wars 2’s world contained at release, things which I assumed had been specifically left there to be built on in the living story – and yet none of these have been used. Instead, the Molten Alliance was introduced from nowhere; the Aetherblades were introduced from nowhere; Zephyr Sanctum was introduced from nowhere. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that those things don’t fit the lore – there’s sufficient justification for them being there without us knowing about it beforehand, more or less. It’s just a pity to have totally unconnected and new things introduced to an already rich world when the living story could and should be about building immersion in the Tyria we know from the rest of the game.
As an aside on this point, I’d also like to see more use of the complex racial cultures, politics and such that ArenaNet’s writers put so much work into. The Queen’s Jubilee brought the focus to Kryta (and some very interesting tensions among Queen Jennah’s closest advisors) and the upcoming Twilight Assault brings us to Caledon Forest, but by and large the focus on new enemies like the Molten Alliance and Scarlet means that the issues of individual races are glossed over. Wasted potential, in my opinion.
‘Living’ story vs. Permanency
Again, don’t get me wrong – permanent additions to the game are great. Recently, in response to player criticism, we’ve been getting a lot more of that. What bothers me is that things might be made permanent where it doesn’t make sense; the soft version of that is more story instances, which are commonplace in living story now. I am one of an apparent minority in favour of one-off events which will not allow all players to participate, but which create a sense of time and history in the living world. The majority of players, it seems, don’t like this, and I can understand why: most of us have lives, jobs and families, not to mention different timezones, and to miss out on something (to be penalised) simply because you aren’t willing to drop everything else for the game seems unfair and unhealthy. Still, I want to see the living world be a living, breathing, changing world, and that means that time passes and things come and go. I’ll miss things, but more things will come.
The more common view, I think, stems from viewing updates as game content – rewards added, new ‘levels’ or challenges to play through. We gamers feel entitled to access to every such challenge, and we hate it when someone has something that we can’t get, not because they’re better players but because they were lucky, or there at the right time, or there for longer. Everything has to be ultimately accessible. That feeling, and the insistence on permanent updates to the game, seems to me to come from a subscriber’s attitude, and I would remind GW2’s players that you’re not playing ArenaNet to update for you. If you miss a living story update, you’re not being cheated out of what you rightfully deserve for your fee (and let’s not get into the matter of paying customers deserving rewards).
Anyway, I’d like to see living story be time-limited and fleeting, while the other updates to bosses, WvW, crafting etc. are permanent. The upcoming Twilight Assault release runs the risk of breaking that borderline for me, as I don’t want Scarlet in a permanent part of the game. Speaking of which…
This is just a matter of taste, I guess, but my friends and I largely feel the same way: we don’t like Scarlet. For a variety of reasons. She’s crazy and irritating, but she’s obviously intended that way, so I don’t think that’s a strong criticism. What I have trouble buying into is that she’s a mad genius and mastermind. Scarlet is heavily influenced by Harley Quinn, a great character in her own right – but she’s a supporting character. The Joker is the mastermind, and crazy though he is, you believe it. Harley is someone you point in a direction and let loose, and that’s what Scarlet feels like. I’d be pleased if there was a more shadowy mastermind hiding behind her and the chaos she causes, but it would also seem cheap, given that Scarlet has been revealed as the person behind that Molten Alliance and Aetherblades. Pushing the dredge and flame legion into a risky assault on their enemies, and pushing Mai Trin to make a bid for the Captain’s Council, don’t seem like Scarlet’s style – they’re much more subtle and manipulative. Does Scarlet have a boss? We’ll see…
Aside from that, I actually have a few issues with Scarlet being sylvari. First of all, the sylvari get a lot of flak from players for being Mary-Sues and developers’ favourites, which isn’t unreasonable – the game’s main plot becomes surprisingly sylvari-focused (I hope that’s simply because they’re loosely linked to Zhaitan, and other races will get their time in the sun with later Elder Dragon campaigns). The sylvari emissary at Dragon Bash and Scarlet both seem like attempts to counter the impression that all Dream sylvari are sweetness and light and perfection, but in doing so the writers have created yet another sylvari who is just naturally talented and amazingly better than everyone else. What’s more, they’ve done it without making use of her sylvari-ness. How do the Nightmare Court feel about Scarlet? Does she serve Nightmare, consciously or inadvertently? Do the sylvari feel responsible for her actions? How old is she, and how did she end up working with clockwork/steam tech? There’s a lot that could be done to tie her in with Tyria’s existing issues – Twlight Assault might start this, but I’m not holding my breath.
Too Much Groundwork, Not Enough Follow-Through
Each living story arc has more or less fulfilled itself in a few releases – an exception being Scarlet’s escape at the end of Clockwork Chaos, but that introduced her as a villain and then freed her up for later escapades; that’s acceptable. The living story has had a habit of introducing intriguing things only to move away from them again, though… in a similar fashion to the plot hooks mentioned above, I suppose. Rox and Braham have stuck around (I really like Rox; Braham, meh) and work well for ArenaNet’s typical style where us nameless, faceless player heroes are always accompanying named NPC heroes with a reason to be there. Marjory Delaqua, however, was introduced as the sleuth on the trail of some epic conspiracy, and then left unused. I truly expected to see her at the Queen’s Jubilee (with Kasmeer, who my gut says should be her girlfriend, just sayin’). When Scarlet was revealed as the power behind the previous crises, I wondered “what does Marjory and her mysterious ‘E’ have to say about that?” – but nothing. If we keep moving on to a totally new and totally unprecedented story every month, it makes me less convinced about that over-arching direction I was sure it must all have – and saying ‘the new bad guy Scarlet was behind it all!’ is not my idea of a well thought-out over-arching plot. If you’re going to reference background machinations, ArenaNet, please be sure to mention them more regularly to keep us thinking.
I think the best way to sum up my misgivings regarding the lore and story of the living world as it is now is through my experience as a roleplayer. When random characters get together in their guild hall, they often need something to chat about, and one of the things that excited me about the living story was that it had the potential to provide constant current events to discuss. The norn and charr refugees during Flame and Frost, the background controversy over Dragon Bash, the Queen’s Jubilee -all of these could be referred to as happening in the background, in people’s home towns. With the introduction of Scarlet, I became uncertain. Did I treat these invasions as really happening to my characters? How much of a threat should they be perceived as? It was the first time I had really felt obliged to ignore the living world content when talking about the world in a story sense, and I have a problem with that.
I would love to see the living story continue as current events, politics, festivals and local initiatives. If and when it moves us toward another Elder Dragon *coughJormagcough*, I will happily treat that as current events and discuss it in real time, in-character. But when I have to decide whether or not to accept in-game events as canonical because it seems like to do so would be random, jarring and break up the existing order, that’s problematic. The karka attack on Lion’s Arch, now that I could still treat as canon!