FFXIV – 4.1, The Legend Returns

I dragged myself away from Guild Wars 2 for a little while to play through the FFXIV 4.1 Main Scenario Quest, “The Legend Returns.” I’m so happy to be caught up with FFXIV and be in a position to play these patches when they come out, instead of rushing to catch up later. I didn’t even have to get any new gear. This is probably the first time I’ve ever been so caught up in any game.

Story spoilers below if you haven’t played it yet.

First of all, let me quickly say that the difference between the story development in Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV is night and day. FFXIV is extremely character-driven, while GW2 seems much more plot-driven. Not to play favorites or anything, but character-driven stories are objectively, unquestionably much better. :)

Overall I felt like The Legend Returns started weak and ended strong. Until the very last quest, I felt like we were ping-ponging all over the place (not unlike GW2 hehe) with no real direction. Then everything tied together, and I was honestly surprised at how it turned out.

But: I’m a little concerned about what they are doing with Lyse. While I like Raubahn a lot, I feel like bringing him back to Ala Mhigo undercuts what I feel like is Lyse’s main story arc–growing into a strong leader in her own right. How is she going to do that with Raubahn looming over her shoulder?

They really *did* sit in a circle. Hippies!

It’s possible that Lyse could become the civilian leader, while Raubahn confines himself to the military. Given the new democratic structure of Ala Mhigo, that makes sense. Lyse showed signs of growing again, at least as a diplomat. But I’m just … worried about it. Raubahn is a huge presence on-screen, while Lyse isn’t. She as a character could easily get lost behind his massive shadow.

I did not expect Raubahn to end up back in Ala Mhigo. I was 100% sure that they were setting us up for Raubahn to die at the end of this patch. (I thought he would die before the end of Stormblood too, since he gave his sword to his son.) Frankly I think that would have been a better story choice. It would force Lyse to grow into the leader she needs to be, without any crutches. Failing that, I thought they would surely send Raubahn back to Ul’dah, to give Lyse the room she needed to grow. (She even said it herself, something like, “what will I do if Raubahn leaves?”)

But enough about that.

Initially I questioned the choice of frivolously putting a new dungeon (an “adventure”) at the very beginning. It was a bit of a turn-off. (I don’t play the MSQ to unlock new dungeons, I play it to learn more about the characters and their stories! And, you know, because you have to play it.) In retrospect, given the serious nature of the rest of the story, it made more sense. And people who don’t care about the story at all probably appreciated it.

I was very happy to see more of Fordola and her backstory. I think I mentioned that I wanted to know more about her character after Stormblood. I liked that they showed us a sort of bond between Arenvald and Fordola, which may or may not develop in the future. If nothing else, they are two sides of the same coin: Two people from the same background, “of an age,” who made radically different life choices.

I was glad to see Fordola have a redemptive moment, and I was glad to see that she chose it. (I am a sucker for redemption stories, though.) I think they played the “angry mob’s” reaction pretty well, represented by that one old man. It was a small step, but a positive one. What’s next for The Butcher?

What the heck is going on with Yotsuyu?? She must have lost her memory or something. When they kept the camera on her face after Gosetsu left, I fully expected her expression to change from child-like surprise to an evil smirk, but it didn’t. Some sort of post-traumatic childhood regression I guess. How will her redemptive storyline compare and contrast with Fordola’s?

And I guess somebody must have dug up Zenos’ body or something. They offhandedly mentioned something about his grave site, and then at the end we saw a couple of Imperial folks talking about rumors that he never died in the first place. Palace intrigue!

P.S. The new dungeon was okay I guess. I PUGged it, stumbled and bumbled through it, then forgot about it five minutes later.

P.P.S. Am I crazy, or have they done something to improve the graphical quality of the cut scenes? Several times I remember thinking, “This looks better than usual.” Particularly the scenes in Fordola’s cell. Something about the lighting perhaps.

GW2 – Path of Fire Story Completed

Well, that didn’t take long.

But before I talk about Path of Fire, in news that no blog reader cares about, I’ve uploaded the videos I recorded for Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns to my YouTube channel.  (Cross-promotion!)

I’m enjoying Path of Fire a lot. It’s very much like playing the original game again, which was the best part of Guild Wars 2. It almost feels like an “apology” for everything that’s been released since the original game. I spent time completing the first three maps to 100% before moving on with the story, something that has literally never happened since entering Orr roughly five years ago.

Spoilers below if you haven’t completed the story.

I made a bold change in wardrobe for the expansion, the first time in, well, ever.

The story is pretty straightforward: Kill Balthazar before he kills the dragon Kralkatorrik. That’s basically it. There are a few twists and turns as we try to figure out how to kill him, but it’s mainly a linear path, and there were no shocking revelations (at least none that made any impact on me, a GW lore newbie).

I was going to break my thoughts about Path of Fire into two posts. The first would have covered the first ten chapters, ending with The Enemy of My Enemy. That’s the one where we travel across not one but two brand new maps to take control of Palawa Joko’s army (if that name wasn’t created with a random name generator I’ll eat my hat). In retrospect, it seemed like they had more map territory than story to fill it. Maybe they ran out of time.

After chapter ten, it sounded like the end was imminent, but I couldn’t believe there would only be eleven chapters in the expansion, and I assumed something would happen to prolong the story out to at least sixteen chapters like Heart of Thorns (which I thought was short, too), like perhaps a new enemy would arise after Balthazar was gone (I assumed it would be the dragon).

But alas, nope, it turned out that the only thing left in the expansion after gathering Joko’s army was confronting Balthazar, so only one post is needed. (I was right about the dragon, it’s just that they are presumably pushing it to Living World Season 4.) There were a total of thirteen chapters (although eleven and twelve were essentially two parts of the same confrontation), and the thirteenth and final chapter was just a celebration to congratulate us on our victory.

Even during the celebration, which was even entitled “Epilogue,” I kept thinking there would be more. But nope. The expansion was indeed much shorter than I expected. If I hadn’t worked on map completion I feel like I could have finished the entire thing in a weekend. As it was, it only took 10 days, and 4 of those days I was repairing my PC. And I don’t think I ever played more than a two or three hours a day. (Compare with three weeks for the FFXIV Stormblood expansion story.)

But still, it was fun, and will continue to be fun as I finish up the last two maps and grab the last two mounts. (Although I keep hearing about having to do “collections” and pay hundreds of gold to get the last mount so that’s probably not going to happen, seeing as how I’ve never had more than 20 gold in five years of GW2.)

I’m not quite on board with the prevailing theory that the story is good, but it’s definitely better. They did a bit more to make sure that you, the player, understood the story, instead of just assuming every player had poured over every inch of GW2 lore on the Internet. The cast was consistently present (except when they conveniently left the stage because the player has to do everything solo). NPCs re-iterated key points over and over again. The Commander asked a lot of questions. The entire mechanic of calling Taimi from “contact points” now and then seemed to be there just to give you a refresher on where you are in the story. (If you call her before every chapter, the conversation essentially summarizes what you did last chapter, and what you’re going to do next chapter, all while reminding you that Aurene is still out there.)

But it wasn’t great. There were still some head-scratching moments for this lore newbie. Like when this dragon Vlast appeared out of nowhere and inexplicably took a bullet for me. I have no memory of hearing the name Vlast before in the past five years (or “Gleam” or whatever). They did almost nothing to establish this dragon as a thing before his pivotal plot moment. Additionally, the “memories” we heard from Vlast did not paint him as a self-sacrificing sort of a dragon, either. I thought maybe they would explain that sacrifice more later, but they never did.

Actually, most of the plot points related to Glint went right over my head, as they often do. Glint is a name I see referenced all the time in GW2 but I have almost zero context for this apparently very important dragon character in Guild Wars lore. Kasmeer mentioned that we had once been to Glint’s Lair and I was like, “We have? When was that??” It must have been in Season 2, which I only remember as a mass of frustrating maps and boss fights.

Speaking of Kasmeer, I don’t remember her being particularly religious before all this Balthazar business started. But setting that aside, on a positive note, I found her scene with Kormir very touching. It was one of the better character moments I can remember in the game. I genuinely felt bad for her that she was “losing” her goddess.

In contrast, the scene where Rytlock found Snaff’s golem was obviously meant to be an emotional character moment, but it meant exactly nothing to me because I lacked context. Snaff is another one of those GW2 names that comes up all the time and is clearly supposed to have great significance, but continues to go right over my head.

Like Bhagpuss, I too found it extremely odd that the Amnoon City Council trusted a newly-arrived stranger to make a lasting political decision. As far as I could tell, other than perhaps changing the flavor of some NPC dialog heard around the city, it had no effect on the story and I don’t know why we did it.

The final boss fight was a doozy of flashing lights and noise, but I got through it with far less trouble than many of the Living World bosses. (I had more trouble with his War Pig thingy beforehand, because it was not a melee-friendly fight.) I figured out in the second encounter on top of the plateau in Elon Riverlands that if you stay close to Balthazar, it’s fairly easy to step out of most of his attacks. I thought it was interesting that they threw in some of the “cooperative” mechanics that we taught Aurene in that one chapter of the Living World Season 3. The dragon training wasn’t a complete waste of time after all! Little things like that make me glad I decided to push through all the content in the right order.

Story-wise, I thought it was a cop-out that we ended up using Rytlock’s sword to defeat Balthazar. I mean, we could have used it the first time we saw him. Or more appropriately Rytlock could have used it. That was one hell of a sword, too. Why doesn’t he mow through enemies like a hot knife through butter?

Normally I don’t like it when games force you to use a weapon that you aren’t comfortable with, but in this case they made it easy enough to use that it didn’t bother me too much. Still would have preferred to use my axe though. (Ed: I now realize I could have, but it would have made a long fight into an interminably long fight.)

One other story problem: Rytlock was responsible for releasing Balthazar on the world, and he made a bit of a show of announcing that he would make things right, more than once. But … he never did. He didn’t do much of anything except lend me his sword. I was expecting him to make some sort of sacrifice, perhaps even get himself killed in service to the story. (Not that death means much in this game.) But nope.

Also: What was the point of assembling Joko’s army when we had to go through that whole last fight alone?

Also: It wasn’t at all clear what happened with Aurene and Kralkatorrik at the end of that fight. It wasn’t until the celebration party afterward when the Commander spelled it out for me that I understood it. It looked like Aurene had been vaporized by lightning, but apparently she just left.

Anyway, on to other features of the expansion.

The mounts are very cool. Of the three I have so far, the jumpy rabbit seems the most useful and the one I use most often. I mentioned in my Path of Fire Demo post that I didn’t think they would fundamentally change the game, but boy was I wrong. They completely trivialize getting around the world. It amazes me that they allowed us to use them in the old maps. Getting to any points of interest or vistas feels like cheating now.

Since it’s actually possible to complete the Hero Point challenges in Path of Fire solo (again, like it used to be in the original game), I finally collected enough points to finish training Reaper. Then I started training the Scourge profession. I tried it out for a little while, but I didn’t like it. I’m sure there is some trick to playing it properly, but the lack of the shroud form feels like a crippling disability. Plus the torch only gives you two new abilities. Incidentally, ahem, when are they adding that Build Load and Save feature? If I hadn’t taken a screenshot of my build before changing it I would have had literally no idea how to get back to where I started.

Incidentally, this is the Necromancer build and skills I used for most of Path of Fire.

There is still the nagging problem of never receiving any meaningful loot. That’s the price of horizontal progression I guess. At least now you can leave most of the useless loot stacking endlessly in just a few inventory slots. Unfortunately it seems like they invented new junk to fill inventory slots for the expansion. I continue to wish for an option to disable picking up loot, or a filter to control what kinds of loot to pick up. I never want to see blue or green gear get into my inventory. Even yellow gear, actually. (Unless I don’t have the skin unlocked.)

But again overall, it’s a very good expansion. It’s the best the game has been since launch, for us filthy casuals, at least.

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 6, One Path Ends

Apologies for the delay, but my SSD drive failed and caused all manner of random crashing issues for four days. PC problems have a way of pushing all other concerns to the background. Once I finally determined it was the SSD (not so easy, since all tests indicated it was perfectly fine), I installed an older, smaller SSD from an old laptop and reinstalled Windows, so I’ve now got a blank new machine for all intents and purposes. This is the first time I’ve ever seen an SSD fail, but it’s only the third one I’ve ever owned, so I have to conclude they don’t have a very high success rate.

By the way, I probably should have mentioned that all of these posts contain massive spoilers for Living World Season 3. This one probably more than any of the others.

One Path Ends, the last chapter in Living World Season 3, begins with a trip to the temple in Divinity’s Reach, where we find that the Priest of Balthazar is amusingly “drunk on faith” now that Balthazar has returned. Countess Anise speaks some techno-babble about the Eye of Janthir being able to lead us to Balthazar, so we head off to Northern Brisban to find one of Anise’s contacts who also happens to be on the trail of the Eye.

This leads to a White Mantle Hideout and a massive jumping puzzle. The Commander unintentionally voices what we’re all thinking about the Guild Wars 2 story all the time: “Why put your hideout somewhere easy when you can put it up there?” Indeed, why make any part of a story accessible when you can gate it behind arbitrarily difficult challenges?

Then we meet Anise’s contact, Exemplar Kerida, a new character for this chapter whose vocal stylings somewhat resemble Cruella De Vil. She is imprisoned in a Bloodstone trap which is a thinly-disguised brain teaser puzzle. I wasn’t in the mood for a brain teaser so I used the tried-and-true random clicking method, which eventually worked. (I think the actual solution was to click every other anchor point.)

Several fights later we find the Eye of Janthir, and a mini-boss protects herself in another Bloodstone trap mechanic, so then we have to solve the brain teaser puzzle in the middle of a fight. Exemplar Kerida gets caught in another trap, and the Eye floats away. There is also something about “aspects” and Lazarus but I can’t relate it very well because I just plain didn’t understand it.

Obviously the next course of action is to join the Shining Blade, so we go through some super secret oath ritual with Countess Anise and Exemplar Kerida. I think it was so they could tell us more about the Eye of Janthir without breaking their oaths of secrecy. (I don’t understand how that’s in their interests, but okay.) Then we go to the last new map, Siren’s Landing, another part of Orr. Once there, we need to “activate” a series of Reliquaries which basically means completing all the Hearts on the map. Somehow these things are connected but your guess is as good as mine on how.

The last reliquary is Abaddon’s Reliquary, which is apparently where we’re going to find … something. The Eye of Janthir? I honestly don’t know what we’re looking for at this point. In practical terms, we find a bunch more puzzles to solve and some more boss fights, which are at just about the right difficulty for me.

In the last room, Exemplar Kerida reveals she had a secret plan all along, and resurrects Lazarus, presumably the real one, and not the fake one that was really Balthazar. Confused yet? Well, it turns out that Kerida is really Livia, and she has an old grudge against Lazarus. This is apparently something that only people who played Guild Wars 1 will appreciate and understand. The final boss fight goes on for a long time, it has a lot of different mechanics, and there’s a lot of expositional dialog throughout it. For a wonder, I didn’t have much trouble with it.

When it was all over, we learned that most of this entire chapter was a wild goose chase, because Balthazar went to the Crystal Desert. But I guess we got to hang out with a legend from Guild Wars 1 for a while, for whatever that was worth. (To me, not much.)

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 5, Flashpoint

For the record, I’ve finished Living World Season 3 and started into Path of Fire. As of Monday morning, I’ve just gotten to the second map, Desert Highlands. It’s a far better expansion than Heart of Thorns already, although I just ran into a story gate that isn’t obvious how to open. Now back to the past…

Living World Season 3, Episode 5, Flashpoint, starts off with a trip to Taimi’s lab, where we find Kasmeer chastising us for not inviting her to join Dragon’s Watch yet. As usual with Asura, there is a slight diversion as we fight back the experiments (hasn’t anyone learned yet to keep Asura far, far away from technical gadgets?).

Taimi built a device that is supposed to weaken? kill? enslave? both of the dragons Jormag and Primordus using (insert unimportant techno-babble here). Taimi’s character, incidentally, continues to ride exactly on that line between adorable and insufferable.

Marjory suddenly arrives to tell us that Lazarus is coming, and by the way he is up to no good in the Fire Islands. When Lazarus arrives, the first boss fight commences and we dispel his illusion to find that it was Old Man Withers all along! Actually, it was Balthazar, the unsurprising reveal I’ve been expecting ever since the Path of Fire demo weekend. Balthazar steals Taimi’s dragon-killing device, Marjory goes down with an injury, and Kasmeer freaks right the hell out and runs away hiccuping. (At this point, I just shrug at these strange character developments and move on.)

A submarine next takes us to a massive steamy volcanic cave (“a cavern created by gases during a volcanic eruption”) called Draconis Mons in the Ring of Fire. Most of the rest of the gameplay in this episode involves running around the map to get to the green stars. It’s designed essentially like a massive spiral ramp going upward from the submarine landing to the summit of the volcano (on the inside). Personally I enjoyed picking my way up to the top (well, except for the pocket raptors and rolling devils). It was sort of like one massively long, extended jumping puzzle.

Once you get to the top, you have to find a bunch of druid plant thingys who give you the buff you need so that you can enter the heart of the volcano and survive to fight Balthazar. More running around, yada, yada, yada, then you earn a protective green bubble and finally get to jump into the volcano to go after Balthazar. (I’m not exactly sure what nefarious thing Balthazar is up to, but it has something to do with awakening? killing? consuming? the dragon Primodus, who lives? sleeps? works? in this volcano.)

Taimi arrives in an unfinished Scruffy 2.0 golem to supervise the recovery of her device and and help us get through some barriers. We find Balthazar on a floating platform over a sea of lava, using Taimi’s device to shoot a beam of (something) into Primodus’s head, so naturally we have to intervene. We don’t get to fight Balthazar, but his two dogs. At this point we are treated to another one of those kinds of GW2 boss fights. This one has similar rage-inducing properties, much like the one at the end of Episode 4. The basic idea for this one is that you have to glide a lot to collect “dragon energy” and bomb Balthazar’s dog minions from above.

I’ll admit it’s a creative design for a boss fight, but the problem is that GW2’s gliding and camera control is not sophisticated enough to implement the flight simulator mechanics they wanted us to do. I had tremendous difficulty trying to get my camera turned to face the direction I needed to look to target the dogs, and since the updrafts constantly pushed you upward really fast, half the time you drifted out of range and missed the bombing targets.

Eventually I had to go into my settings and enable “Use Free Camera” to keep the camera from re-aligning itself all the time. (Something I normally like on the ground.) I use “Fast with Range Indicator” for Ground Targeting, which unfortunately made it difficult to use Taimi’s scanner on the device in the center of the platform while the dogs were attacking me. With this setting, ground targets normally center themselves on whatever enemy you have targeted, but I needed Taimi’s scanner to work on the device in the middle. So half the time I wasted my scans on the dogs.

I got pretty mad during this fight. Especially when it kept repeating over and over again. (That is another typical boss fight formula: Complete a challenge once, then complete it again with more difficult parameters, in case it was just a fluke that you got through it the first time.) It wasn’t that hard per se, but most of the fighting was with the Guild Wars 2 controls and camera. I was very glad to see the end of it. I hope they never do that again. GW2 is not a good flight simulator. I would have preferred an underwater boss fight, to be honest.

When it was all over, I wasn’t clear what happened, story-wise. This is not unusual, but it wasn’t the same kind of confusion as in previous episodes, where I grasped the events that happened, but didn’t think it made any sense. In this case I wasn’t clear what even happened. I think we had to make a choice between killing the dragons or killing Balthazar, and we chose to kill Balthazar. The dragons … went somewhere? Went back to sleep? Do dragons sleep? Or they were released from Balthazar’s grip? Or something? I don’t know. But it sounded like the dragons are no longer a threat, and what Taimi and I did also somehow affected? defeated? helped? Jormag way up in the Shiverpeaks, too. (Which is going to make Braham mad that he won’t get to complete his suicide mission against Jormag.)

All I really know is that Balthazar didn’t die, because of the Path of Fire demo. So I’m not really sure what we accomplished in this episode. In any case, it was one of the shortest ones.

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 4, The Head of the Snake

Episode 4 is entitled The Head of the Snake, and by the end, I was hoping someone would cut off my head to put me out of my misery.

It began innocently enough, with a party at Divinity’s Reach with Queen Jennah. It reminded me of another story instance I vaguely remember from the distant past, perhaps in another Living Story, where you had to walk around talking to party guests. This time, White Mantle forces crashed the party by attacking Divinity’s Reach, which miraculously created a new map right next to the city where we’ve never seen one before. (Or was that little space there the whole time? If so, did they plan to put a map there all along?)

The new map is all right I guess. I didn’t hate it. Any map that isn’t a jungle at this point automatically makes it better than average for me. I even had some fun roaming around doing Logan’s dirty work (since when do I work for him?), doing the events necessary to progress the story. The fact that you can wander around is a big plus.

Then I got to the final part of the episode, Confessor’s End. My apparently randomly-assigned companions for this mission were Anise and Demmi Beetlejuice (Caudecus’s daughter if you didn’t know because how could you). We assaulted Caudecus’s Manor to finally bring the dastardly Caudecus to justice, and that’s when the fun ended.

His manor is filled with White Mantle of course, which are annoying but I can deal with them. (It is absolutely true that the more you play Guild Wars 2 the easier the game gets–assuming you stick to one build and learn it intimately.) There were also a pair of Jade Armor Thingys that you could either sneak past or fight. I foolishly thought they were regular Jade Armor Thingys and didn’t work very hard to sneak by them and ended up fighting them. Countless deaths later, I had to exit the instance in a huff, repair my armor, and start over again. The second time I took special care to sneak past them. I didn’t know it then, but they had an extra attack which had to be countered with one of those new situational special abilities.

After fighting through some White Mantle we got to Caudecus in the heart of his manor and a boss fight commenced (Canach also arrived for this). It was a bit annoying at first but I finally figured out through painful trial and error that I needed to hit my special ability action whenever I got a sniper target thingy over my head, which negated the worst part of the fight. (I still don’t know what that special ability is or where I got it or why it negated the attack. I never had time to hover over it and read a tool tip.)

Someone named Valette was there too. I don’t know who she is. But she’s apparently really important to this Caudecus story. I think she was an ally of Caudecus but then decided help us?

Anyway, I should have suspected that the boss fight was too easy, because instead of dying, Caudecus ran away again. Anise, Canach, Valette, and I chased him through some dumb riddles to an inner sanctum and another boss fight.

The second Caudecus boss fight took place in a very small room that made it difficult to see because of the camera bumping up against the walls. The ground was bombarded with orange circles so you had to move and dive constantly. I’m sort of used to that now, so that wasn’t the worst part. (Incidentally, I despise the fact that you can only dodge twice before running out of energy.) He had shields so you had to pickup bloodstone from the floor and throw them until his shield blew up. Then you could attack him and actually do a minuscule amount of damage. Once his shields were down he threw all kinds of attacks at you that you had to dodge, and you had to use your special ability to avoid the sniper attack things, and move around and avoid all the little bloodstone creatures that exploded all around you. Of course his shields would come back fairly quickly so you had to repeat this dance roughly fifty times.

Not only that, but the walls would spin around periodically, and loud, bombastic music blared at you the entire time. Later I realized that the frantic music probably contributed to my overall annoyance level, as it sometimes does in Dark Souls boss fights.

I’ve figured out the formula for GW2 boss fights: You start out not really knowing how it works, and you spend the first 10% learning how to fight without getting killed. During that time you’re frustrated and confused and cussing a lot. After that phase you figure out what you’re supposed to do, and you slowly become proficient at it. At some point you get into the rhythm of the fight and feel confident that you’re going to win.

At exactly that moment, they throw in some new element that wrecks everything and you go back to the frustrated, confused, cussing phase again until you learn the new patterns. Sometimes it doesn’t take long. Other times it makes you want to throw your mouse at the monitor and storm away from the computer.

This last Caudecus fight was the latter case.

Just as I was getting everything under control, after what seemed like an hour of frantic running, dodging, dying, and repeating, they threw a Jade Armor Thingy into this little room with me and Caudecus. I died a lot. I mean, a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever died so much in a boss fight before. By the end I had no pants. The only good thing about this fight is that you don’t have to restart it every time.

Typically I would think you’d want players to feel elated and happy after finishing a boss fight. But I usually feel exhausted and traumatized and angry by the end of GW2 fights, none more so in recent memory than this Caudecus fight.

I wanted the episode to be over, but then things got worse because after the boss fight you’re supposed to investigate Caudecus’s room. Instead, I somehow got lost and spent 20 minutes running around his manor unable to find it. (It turned out to be literally right next to where I started, which made me even more angry.) Even after the boss fight his manor is still full of White Mantle folks and I died a bunch more times. My chest piece was the only unbroken piece of equipment by the end.

In the end, story-wise, Canach finally got to deal with Caudecus (even though I did all the work) and was freed from Anise’s service. (I don’t remember when that happened or why it was important.) Now the mysterious Valette took his place as Anise’s … I don’t know, servant? Apparently people who commit crimes around Divinity’s Reach are punished by having to hang around with Countess Anise.

In plot developments that actually matter, we learned that Lazurus is an imposter. (Surprise, surprise, given what I know from the Path of Fire demo weekend.) Also Canach didn’t want to join Dragon’s Watch.

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 3, A Crack in the Ice

Episode 3 of the Living World Season 3 takes us to Bitterfrost Frontier, another new map north of Frostgorge Sound.

The episode begins with some “challenges” in Tarir to train baby dragon Aurene how to be a good dragon. I cringed at first but it turned out the challenges were fairly benign, if somewhat tedious. It seemed like filler material to extend the length of the content, to be honest.

Then we went to Bitterfrost Frontier to find Braham and do an errand for Taimi–something about pitting the two dragons Primordus and Jormag against each other. Except we had to make an Elixir to survive the cold first, which took up most of our time and took us to all corners of the map. We killed a minion of Jormag, then found Braham and helped him find a scroll. Braham then had a huge whiny meltdown when I tried to convince him to join Dragon’s Watch instead of going off to kill Jormag.

I was a bit stunned by Braham’s outburst. I’ll admit it was one of the most memorable character conflicts in the game, but it seemed–stop me if you’ve heard this before–completely random and without cause. Correct me if I’m wrong, but did he not even know his mother back in Living Story season 1? Now she is the driving force for everything he does.

Besides that, though, I actually enjoyed playing on the Bitterfrost Frontier map. And overall, I found the gameplay in this episode to be much more casual, even the final boss fights with the Jormag minion and the scroll guardian. (The last fight was incredibly confusing, but somehow it sort of resolved itself without much interaction from me.) Looking back now, I realize it was just the calm before the storm of Episode 4, but it was nice while it lasted.

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 2, Rising Flames

Bhagpuss recommended that I skip the Living World Season 3* and go right into Path of Fire, which by all accounts is far superior, but I’m stubbornly persisting in my efforts to complete the whole season first. Partly it’s because I’ve been recording this adventure, so I’ll have videos of it all. And partly it’s because I want to experience it “as it was intended.” I see a lot of people using their new mounts to get to places which seems like cheating. :)

Lastly I’ve found that Living World Season 3 actually isn’t too terrible, compared to the Heart of Thorns story. I’m not sure what it is but I’ve been a bit more engaged and less ragey about it. (At least until I got to the end of Episode 4, but that’s another story.) I think the fact that the story moves to different locations helps a lot. After the first episode, it’s not just the same accursed jungle setting every time. There is a genuine feeling of, “Hey, this is actually new!” I cannot overstate how much new scenery influences me to stay in an MMORPG.

Episode 2, for example, moves to another new map called Ember Bay, an island at the edge of the Unending Ocean. (Some day they are going to feel dumb for naming it that.) There’s a lot of rocks and mountains and fire and brimstone there. I’m hard pressed to remember why we went there at the time of this writing, but the most important thing about it is that there are no trees anywhere to be found. It just looks different, and that’s a big plus for me.

I’m writing this after I’ve finished Episode 4, so I have to dig back into my recordings to remember what actually happened in Episode 2. That’s how much of an impression the story made on me. :) It started out with a weird simulation that Taimi created for us to fight things for no apparent reason. Then Taimi sent us to Ember Bay, where we have to fix a bunch of dwarven spheres before the island blows up. (I don’t even know what to say about “Stone Face.”) Then we had a vision, so we had to go back to Tarir in Auric Basin and protect a dragon baby. Lazurus showed up to help with this.

The overall story did not get any easier to understand. I’m pretty sure this episode was created entirely with a random number generator. I guess the main takeaways were that Lazurus tried to convince us that he’s a good guy, and there’s a new dragon Aurene in the world. Marjory randomly volunteered to keep an eye on Lazarus. I say “randomly” because it always seems completely random which of my Dragon’s Watch companions show up and/or volunteer to do things.

It was very cool to see the return of hearts to the Ember Bay map. They are more like daily achievements now, but it’s still nice to see them again.

Next up, Episode 3!

* I’ve been calling it the “Living Story” forever but I only just realized when I actually read the text in the story journal that it’s supposed to be “Living World” Season 3.

Games Played – September 2017

September was a fairly low-energy, chaotic gaming month. I tried a lot of different games but nothing really clicked. Most of my time in GW2 was spent on either Living Story Season 3 or mindlessly working on map completion while watching television.

  • Guild Wars 2 – 25 hours
  • Elite: Dangerous – 11 hours
  • Final Fantasy XIV – 5 hours
  • 7 Days To Die – 3 hours
  • Lord of the Rings Online – 3 hours
  • Rift – 2 hours
  • Assassin’s Creed 3 – 1 hour
  • Stellaris – 1 hour