After finishing the first part of Living World Season 4, Episode 3, Seized, last week I said that everything had already been said about GW2’s Living World and nothing had changed. I muttered under my breath a lot about that first part-both the story and gameplay-but to be far it was far better than the first part of LW4 Episode 1, which was the video game equivalent of riding in a hot car with a screaming toddler.
There might be some mild spoilers in here if you’ve somehow figured out how to care even the slightest bit about the story in GW2, but only for the first two parts of Episode 3, because I could not bear to go any further.
I didn’t want to write yet another post about the Living World. I mean, it’s exactly the same rant as every other time, and there is nothing new to be said about it. The game is what it is (a lost cause) and there are no surprises. But when I tried to play the second part of Episode 3, Forearmed is Forewarned, I did something I’ve never done before: I quit right in the middle of it.
I just … I can’t even … How is it possible for anyone to make what should be a fun little story so painful to get through?
It’s like they’re actually trolling us. It’s a game made by Internet trolls. Or maybe they’re trying to see how long they can get away with letting the interns make the game for free while the rest of them are out on extended vacations. I think I might have written these exact words before about previous episodes, I’m not sure. I just can’t explain it. It makes no sense. From my perspective, it does not appear that this game has even the barest sliver of a coherent vision or strategy for the story, the game, or anything in between. It’s completely random dice rolls every time, and whatever happens, happens.
But let’s go back to Seized for a minute, so I’ll have a record of this. In the spirit of “Everything Wrong With” videos, here’s everything I grumbled about in Seized:
- The standard disclaimer I have to put at the beginning of almost every new Guild Wars 2 episode: Wasn’t there a big dragon about to destroy the world? People and/or dragons in Tyria are extremely forgetful.
- Commander: “That’s huge!” Taimi: “Right?” Have some Millennial-speak in your high fantasy game. It’s everywhere, all the time, so I won’t keep bringing this up. But it’s getting kind of bad. They’ve never really tried to make the characters *sound* like fantasy characters, with all their American accents and whatnot, but now it’s almost like every role is written to sound like Chandler from Friends. Can this game world BE any less immersive?
- “If it pleases the court, I’d like to speak.” The Commander is suddenly a legal defense expert.
- “The court hereby orders Gorrik released.” Complicated legal proceedings take roughly two minutes in Tyria.
- Lord Faren appears at random because I guess he’s the Random Unknown Support Character Of The Episode, while all the support characters we actually know and like are wandering around off-camera somewhere, perhaps because their voice actors weren’t available.
- They really need The Commander to search the boxes for Blish, but, once he’s found, “It’s okay Commander, you can go now, you’ve got important things to do.” Yeah actually mindlessly clicking on boxes wasn’t all that important either.
- The cut scene showing the plague victims leaving the ship was pretty good, although I’m quite sure I’ve seen that exact same scene (dolly camera, people falling, bugs advancing across the frame) in at least one or more movies before. Still, it was a good cut scene, completely wasted in this game.
- Deus Ex Aurene again. Again! It’s just laughable at this point. The dragon pet that randomly appears at convenient moments and then disappears during boss fights when you *really* need her, unless she randomly re-appears during the same boss fight. It’s all random, is what I’m saying. Aurene could have blasted Joko and ended this plague war before it started, but nope. Dragons are apparently too fickle for that.
- “Or maybe it’s just Joko’s getting larger.” Airplane! reference fits right in with the fantasy game world.
- Everything else Joko says: I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I have no idea why Joko is mad, why he’s terrorizing this world, why he even exists. It’s only barely plausible why he has such a singular fixation on The Commander, because of that one brief encounter way back in Path of Fire. Joko is the prototypical one-dimensional cartoon villain, the exact thing every writer is told over and over and over again not to do. And we’re seeing exactly why: I just don’t care about Joko. I don’t feel the slightest bit of tension or danger or drama from his tantrums. (He’s also not funny, either.) I actually thought Zenos in FFXIV’s Stormblood was a more fleshed-out villain, and that was the least interesting character in all of FFXIV.
- Istari the Inexorable boss fight: No strategy, no thought, no decisions, just a button-mashing time-waster.
- All your friends who could have helped with the boss fight run up after the boss fight is over. Taimi was right there riding in Scruffy 2.0. I seem to recall Scruffy 2.0 had quite the nuclear arsenal at its disposal not very long ago. So to tally up the totals now, we’ve got a dragon, Rytlock’s sword, and Scruffy 2.0 sitting around in every episode waiting to end all of our problems in seconds, all unused. I vaguely remember hearing that Braham’s bow is supposed to be pretty powerful too, but I don’t think we’ve ever *seen* that in action yet.
- Lord Faren: “Stealing our credit, eh commander?” Okay *that* was actually funny. See? It’s an in-world callback so it doesn’t break the fourth wall, and it even reinforces Faren’s character development! Fantastic! Do more of that! Insert massive positive reinforcement here!!
None of that stuff really interfered with the game though, and I got through Seized in about 30 minutes last week. Then Monday night, I started the second part, which it turns out was custom-designed specifically to generate a rant from me.
I’ll admit I might not have been in the greatest mood for playing a game Monday night. I was still trying to rest my hands, which are still kind of sensitive from playing Dark Souls Remastered on a PS4 controller a lot last month. I was on the third day of a strict no-controller and no-WASD game diet. At the end of the third day of exile, my hands felt marginally better, enough that I thought I’d try a little bit of GW2, a relatively mild WASD game. It’s not exactly a shooter, after all.
So in Forearmed is Forewarned, the new gimmick mechanic is Blish’s arm. It replaces your hotbar with new stealth powers. That’s right, you spent all that time picking your class way back at the beginning of the game, you leveled it up through 80 levels and two expansions, you know everything about how to do anything with your class, but the game decides: Nope, let’s throw all that away and start fresh with a brand new hotbar. It’s fun to learn new things!
To be fair, GW2 does this a lot. And I do actually like to learn new things. But less fair: It’s annoying every single time they do it and I hate it with a burning passion.
But that wasn’t enough. Oh, no. They really rubbed salt in the wound this time, because what do you have to do with all of these stealth powers? Is it sneak over to a spot and push a button, as you might expect? No! You have to kill everyone, of course! I’m not making this up. Your mission goal right up there in the corner of the screen says “Kill all the Awakened.”
But you have to use Blish’s arm and all these new, unfamiliar stealth abilities to do it. Not-I repeat not-all of the abilities that you’ve grown familiar with over the past five years that are specifically designed for killing things.
How does nobody bring this up in a design meeting?
I can’t even express how much I despise it when RPGs force you to play the game differently from the way you made your character. We players chose our class because we like the way it plays. That’s the entire point of having classes in the games, folks. To pick the way we like to play the game. LotRO does this occasionally too with those “flashback” quests, where you play as someone else, with a brand new hotbar of abilities you’ve never seen before. GW2 is now making it a regular staple of the game and I just hate it.
So surely when the game decides to spit in the players' face and subjugate their free will, surely it will just be a quick few minutes with Blish’s arm and we’ll be back to normal, right?
Nope. Of course not, because it’s Guild Wars 2.
Roughly thirty-seven minutes after picking up Blish’s arm, forty-nine minutes after starting up GW2, I logged out right in the middle of the instanced mission because I just couldn’t take another second of it. I knew I’d have to start all over again, but I just didn’t care.
I was hurting my hand again for nothing. It was so unrelentingly not fun and it just went on and on and on and on. The map is enormous. It took forever to run around on it-without a mount, mind you-because you couldn’t just run from point A to point B, you had to circle clear around all the terrain obstacles and find the right bridge to cross, and avoid the sentries. And if you accidentally press the wrong button like I did-unstealthing yourself instead of turning into a tree-you get killed and have to go all the way back to the starting point and run-again, without a mount-all the way back to where you were.
As for my hand, GW2 isn’t a shooter but I ended up playing a lot longer than I intended and I was starting to feel it. I had been playing for almost fifty minutes when I quit the game. I didn’t want to play GW2 for fifty minutes Monday night. Fifty minutes is a really long gameplay session for me, even when my hands aren’t in danger of getting sore again. I’m usually getting weary of most games after about twenty minutes. After thirty minutes I’m getting pretty antsy to finish up. In the fiftieth minute of a typical gameplay session I’m tearing my hair out with desperation to get away from the screen and do something, anything else. (Unless it’s a very rare fantastically immersive game, which GW2 definitely isn’t.)
And it didn’t look like I was anywhere near finishing that mission, either. I was into a whole new section with Canach (another random support character). It looked like it could have gone on for another 50 minutes before I could leave the instance. I had just planted some “walls” and it looked like I had trapped myself on the wrong side and couldn’t get to the places I needed to use the bombs. I spent almost five minutes running around trying to find a way to get past the barriers that I myself had constructed before I just said, “Nope, enough of this.” I felt like a prisoner, trapped in a stealth game I never signed up to play, stuck in an instance with no way to pause or postpone it.
How does this kind of thing happen? There must be a reasonable explanation for it. I can’t believe they’re actually trying to punish their player base, as it certainly appears at first glance. Are they so overworked at ArenaNet that they have no choice but to throw the first thing they think of out the door? Are they so insulated inside their own bubble that they are completely unaware of what players think is fun? Are they so far ahead in the pipeline of game development that they can’t course-correct for years? Is the game we see today a response to Reddit threads from five years ago?
It’s possible (and I suppose I have to assume it’s likely, considering ArenaNet keeps doing this over and over) I’m the outlier here but I honestly can’t remember ever reading a blog post where someone said they really relished and enjoyed a Living World episode. All I ever hear about is people liking that they got the new shiny or mount or achievement or whatever.
I guess I’ll try again in a week or so after I’ve calmed down. GW2 is the only MMORPG that I’m current in so I feel a tiny obligation to try to stay up-to-date if I can, but ArenaNet sure makes it really difficult to care.
UPDATE 7/6/2018: Given recent events with ArenaNet firing two writers, I feel pretty bad about publishing this post and it’s really tempting to delete it. But I’ll leave it as a reminder to myself and everyone else that words can have vast unintended consequences.
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