GW2 – Living World Season 4, Daybreak

This seems like a decent non-spoilery picture for this post because I have no idea what it is or when I took it.

I finished up the Living World Season 4 episode Daybreak over the weekend. This post is going to contain story spoilers, so if you haven’t finished it yet, look away!

My thoughts are pretty similar to Bhagpuss’s.

But I’m going to start with the things I liked about Daybreak.

I really liked the quality of the cut scene at the end of the first chapter, Eye of the Brandstorm, when Aurene showed us that vision. It was one of the best cut scenes produced to date, I think. Naturally, I didn’t understand a single thing in the vision, but it looked neat.

I saw this on Twitter sometime before I reached the end, so the seed was planted in my head and it’s possible this is just some confirmation bias happening, but: Taimi’s voice acting was really good. She seemed like a person with thoughts and feelings instead of the standard cardboard-cut-out “quirky kid on crack.” I am just now reading that she is voiced by Debi Derryberry, or at least she was in Heart of Thorns, the most recent entry for Taimi I can find on IMDB. She is a veteran voice actor, so it makes sense it would be a good performance. (Incidentally, Canach is/was voiced by John DiMaggio aka. Bender!)

There were some good one-liners among the various cast members. Although I’ll be honest, I quickly tire of the jokey-jokey stuff in fantasy games. GW2 especially has a bad habit of using modern Twitter-esque slang in their jokes, which makes it impossible to stay immersed in the Guild Wars universe. (Eg. “It escalated… quickly.” Ha-ha-ha! That’s what millennials say! In those memes!)

I liked that I didn’t die 50,000 times. I was only “defeated” once by the Branded Wyvern, but you respawn literally right next to it so it wasn’t a big deal. The practice I’ve been putting in with my character over this past year has finally paid off! So if you’re coming back to GW2, take heart, because it only takes a solid year of practice before you can have fun again.

I really enjoyed recording my videos for Daybreak.

That’s about it, I think. The rest was a firm “meh” or “what the actual hell.” It’s good fodder for a blog post, though. :) And hey, it was free!

I was very excited to dive into Season 4. It was the first time I’ve been “caught up” enough to play one on launch day since the early days of Season 2 I think. The future looked bright, as I watched the download status bar on Tuesday.

All that optimism died about twenty minutes into the Brandstorm. It’s the same Living World as before.

Gameplay-wise, I thought it was par for the GW2 course. It was more of the same GW2 that we’ve all come to know and despise–I mean, love. Made peace with? Something like that. I was right in my prediction that there would be a ramping up in difficulty from the Path of Fire gameplay. Not as bad as Living World 2 and 3, but definitely harder than the bosses in Path of Fire.

There were no weird new mechanics to deal with, although there were a lot of Branded Crystals inexplicably laying around to pick up. There was a new mastery skill thingy but I never needed it so I guess it wasn’t important for the story. The new map is not bad, although I didn’t spend a huge amount of time exploring it. I don’t care about new achievements or mastery points or whatever. I don’t feel any compulsion to complete all the hearts and vistas and events on this new map, at least not at the moment. (I’m more into Guild Wars 1 right now hehe.) What time I did spend, I enjoyed, though. There were some beautiful sights, particularly around the Astralarium.

I absolutely hated the first chapter of Daybreak, Eye of the Brandstorm. I wrote a lengthy post about it that I’ve since scrapped. The gist of it was that you had to suffer through forty-five continuous minutes of high-energy combat, complete with flashing screen effects and blaring music. Forty. Five. Continuous. Minutes. It was exhausting, and the only real story payoff was Aurene’s vision.

Fortunately I know from Living World experience by now that even if one chapter is awful, it doesn’t mean the entire thing is awful, so I pressed on ahead even though I would have been fine never playing GW2 again after that ghastly abomination that I would rank among some of the worst combat experiences in Guild Wars 2 history. I had to take a day off from the game after Eye of the Brandstorm. Fortunately there were no more combat death marches, although the final boss fight in the last chapter had plenty of annoyances.

Now let’s start the litany of issues I have with the story. In short, they are continuing the Living World tradition of using random dice rolls to structure the plot. “This time we’ll be going to *rolls dice* the City of Fahranur! And the player’s healing companion will be *rolls dice* Rytlock! And the character who will deliver the important dialog will be *rolls dice* Agent Kito! And the surprise appearance will be from *rolls dice* Braham and Rox!”

Speaking of Rytlock, at no point did he use his incredibly powerful flaming sword, which has the power to wipe out huge swaths of enemies. I kind of wish he would accidentally break that sword, just so I won’t constantly look at him for the rest of the life of this game and think, “Would you please help me with that uber-powerful sword??”

I think the first odd thing I noticed is that everyone experienced Aurene’s vision. Previously, I think in Living World Season 3, they established that our character had some kind of special bond with Aurene, so that only we could see her visions. Not anymore, apparently.

At first, it seemed like they were setting up Order of Shadows Agent Kito to be a major new character and our “man on the ground” in Elona, although we barely knew him from Path of Fire. (I had to look up who he was. He had about two lines of dialog near the beginning of Path of Fire, and helped us get from the first map to the second map.) Agent Kito recognized a place in Aurene’s vision as a city called Fahranur (not Faramir), which set up the majority of Daybreak. Then he disappeared again, and so did his dream of becoming a major character. But then, a few chapters later, Agent Kito LITERALLY APPEARED OUT OF NOWHERE to deliver a few lines, then vanished again, never to return.

Most of the rest of Daybreak was spent trying to find this city of Fahranur. Why? I have no idea. The Elder Dragon Kralkatorrik is about to destroy the world, we just had a vivid demonstration of that power in a Brandstorm, but we decided we needed to drop everything to find this city from Aurene’s vision. The only thing I can figure is that we implicitly trust Aurene to know what to do about elder dragons, so we do whatever she tells us, even if it’s vague and obscured in visions. There is also that issue where we’re still waiting for Taimi to figure out how to kill elder dragons without destroying Tyria (she has been working on this since the beginning of Living World Season 3, so no hurry or anything), so I guess we have time to kill chasing down secret cities.

We were told repeatedly that there’s only one person who knows how to get into the city of Fahranur, and his name is Spearmarshal Zaeim (the “Hero of Istan”). We spent quite a lot of time finding this guy. First nobody knew where he was, then we found out he’d been captured by pirates, so we needed to fight a guy to get a coin so we could negotiate with the pirates, then we found out the pirates had already turned him over to Joko, so we had to break him out of prison.

I’ll get to Joko in a bit.

The point is, Spearmarshal Zaeim was supposedly the only way to get into the city of Fahranur, and they dragged out Daybreak for quite some time to drive home this point. Imagine my surprise to see this quest directive up in the corner of the last chapter:

“Find the entrance to Fahranur.”

“Find the entrance to Fahranur,” it said. SPEARMARSHAL ZAEIM IS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO ME! Why can’t he just tell me where the entrance is? Why doesn’t he lead me to the entrance? I’ve literally just spent the last several game hours tracking this guy down for the express purpose of getting into this city!

By that point I had given up on a coherent story, though, and just said, “Whatever.”

Now about Taimi. Again, the game spent quite a few chapters telling us that Spearmarshal Zaeim is the only guy who can get us into this super-secret city of Fahranur. But then out of the blue, at the end of chapter 5, here comes Taimi saying she’s in Fahranur and Joko has her. How did she get into Fahranur before we did? Why was she even trying to get into Fahranur? I thought she was researching how to kill Elder Dragons without destroying Tyria? They never explained that.

Also, why does it always seem to be Taimi who needs to be rescued? She was a bit of a “helpless damsel in distress” character in Daybreak.

Also, how is this Palawa Joko guy able to reprogram Taimi’s golem to suffocate her? Did she not use a strong password on the administrator account? Why can’t she override Scruffy’s defense protocols to tell it not to kill her friends? She was right there. Did Palawa Joko change the password on her? How does a dead lich king know more about programming golems than Taimi, the Prodigy? The more I think about this, the more questions I have. :)

(While editing my video, I noticed that Taimi was surrounded by “Awakened” asura right before the fight, who delivered a difficult-to-hear declaration of war from Elona on Tyria in retribution for “the Commander’s crimes.” I suppose the inference is that those golem-saavy asura are the ones who hacked Taimi’s administrator password and reprogrammed Scruffy. There is no way that I would have been able to figure that out without a video instant replay of the event.)

I thought this weird dialog was inexplicably coming from Scruffy, but I guess it was supposed to be coming from that collective of asura around her.

(While further editing my video, I wondered why Scruffy’s defenses did not activate against Palawa Joko or the Awakened Inquest Asura that hacked her password. They were, uh, formidable.)

Also, why does Taimi have a limp when she’s not in her golem? I noticed that at the very beginning, before the Brandstorm wiped away any interest in the story. Have they ever explained that? Is she disabled?

Okay, now about this Palawa Joko, the character with the name I vote most likely to have been created by a random name generator. It was not at all surprising to find that he had returned from the dead by the end. (Although now that I think about it, I don’t think we ever actually saw him. Only Taimi saw him. So maybe they’re going to pull another one of those it-looks-like-this-one-guy-but-it’s-really-this-other-guy moves like they did with Lazarus.) Every person that we encountered said, “Oh, I recognize your face! Joko is looking for you!” They made a point of having your character say, “Oh, I left Joko back in the Land of the Dead or Whatever, so it can’t be him.” So obviously it’s going to be him.

I don’t have a problem with Palawa Joko as a bad guy or anything, but again, it just seems like a huge, massive distraction from what we should really be focusing on: You know, the huge dragon destroying the world. By the end of Daybreak, Kralkatorrik is completely forgotten, and we’re off and running on Palawa Joko’s plot to send his army of minions to attack Tyria. (Well, at least, I assume that’s what we’ll be doing in the next episode.) It’s like, can ArenaNet please just finish a story? Maybe once? Without getting interrupted by some other seemingly unrelated plot line?

Then again they might tie these two plot lines together at some point. We’re probably going to find out that Palawa Joko is in league with Kralkatorrik, or vice versa, or something. Way, way back at the beginning, before the Brandstorm-of-doom, I think it was mentioned that Kralkatorrik had some “new tricks,” and it seems plausible that Joko could be one of those new tricks.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about Braham and Rox literally dropping in out of nowhere to join the fight at the end. By then I was firmly in my “okay, whatever” mode and not really caring what happened in the story anymore. They sort-of-kind-of explained their presence, I guess. Apparently Joko has opened “portals” from Elona to Tyria in order to attack with his armies, and Braham and Rox just happened to find the one portal that led directly to us and our boss fight.

They did not explain why Braham was so mad at the Commander, so I guess anyone who didn’t play Living World Season 3 is probably scratching their heads about that. (*Cough* Braham’s angry outburst from my Living World Season 3 video *cough*).

Oh and one last thing, I’m starting to get on board with Bhagpuss’s conspiracy theory that they are going to bring back Scarlet:

The very end of Aurene’s vision. Who dat?

I think that would be pretty cool actually. I barely even remember her from Living World Season 1. It would be cool if they sort of re-did the first season so we could experience it again. :) From the perspective of recently playing seasons 2, 3, and now 4, I might be prepared to say that season 1 was the best one (even though I barely remember it–I at least remember being excited to play it, as opposed to feeling like the current seasons are mandatory homework).

I’ll be honest: I’m a little worried about Guild Wars 2’s future, given Path of Fire’s poor performance, and ArenaNet’s fairly obvious and unapologetic gambit to try to get people to buy more stuff in the gem store with these mount skins. I don’t think they are doing very well financially, and this game’s days might be numbered, at least under the current business model. So it pains me a little to ding Daybreak. But yeah, it could have been a lot better.

GW2 – Living World Season 4 Announced

I’m in another “there is nothing to blog about”* mood so this is a brief update to tell you that I finished the GW2 Living World Season 2 again. It was more entertaining the second time. Except for every combat encounter, of course. But it felt considerably easier the second time through, and I only remember wanting to punch my monitor on two of the bosses. That’s an overall smaller monitor-punches-per-episode rate than Living World Season 3 was. (I used my Revenent character.)

In more interesting news, ArenaNet announced Living World Season 4 will begin on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. I’m actually looking forward to it. Being completely caught up on an MMORPG’s story really helps ramp up my interest in newer releases at launch time. Also, you know, it’s free!

The trailer is awful, by the way.  Roughly 98% of it shows scenes from Living World Seasons 1-3, and I’m pretty sure the remainder came from the final cut scene of Path of Fire. In other words, there’s nothing in there that shows what to expect in Living World Season 4.

Whatever it is, I’m anticipating it will be crushingly difficult to make up for Path of Fire’s relative walk in the park storyline.

* Note: Nothing that I’m aware of, at least. Admittedly I am not very well-informed right now as I only just learned tonight that Marvel Heroes has “gone dark” for a month.

GW2 – Story Over Time

Remember Checkhov’s gun here? I didn’t either. Still waiting for someone to use it.

Guild Wars 2 posts do fairly well for some weird reason (but not as well as Dark Tower posts, go figure), so here’s another one. If you aren’t caught up with GW2 there might be some accidental spoilers below.

I mentioned before that I’ve been re-playing the Living World Season 2. Eventually I’ll be uploading them to my YouTube channel, because hey, why not. “Pivot to video” and all that. I actually got six whole views on one of my Path of Fire videos!

Anyway, playing these episodes now, with the benefit of knowing what I know about the future story, is an eye-opening experience. Suddenly a lot of things make sense. Not everything–but some things.

For example, in Echoes of the Past, when I went into Glint’s lair. (Before all the anger over the last boss.) I actually know who Glint is now! And the exposition between Marjory and Kasmeer talking about Destiny’s Edge, Glint, and Kralkatorrik actually made sense! Kind of. In a high-level way. At least I know who and what a “Kralkatorrik” is, which I’m quite sure I didn’t when I first played that episode. And when I ran into Ogden Stonefacewhatever in the library, I knew him from the prologue in Path of Fire! (At which time I was quite sure it was the first whole dwarf I had ever seen in GW2.) The exposition between Kas and Jory went over the highlights of what dwarves are and why they’re stone and why they’re all dead, which put the mysterious Elder Scrolls-style dwarves in better context.

I think the mistake I keep making is assuming that each new game release of GW2 will have a self-contained story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But that’s not the case at all. Every new release contains another “middle.” It’s as if the story of Guild Wars 2 is unfolding at an incredibly slow-motion pace, over the course of five years. You would think after five years of the game being out, there would be a lot of stories told. But when I look back at Season 2, compare it with Heart of Thorns, Season 3, and Path of Fire, which you’d think would all be separate and distinct stories, it’s as if they are all small chapters of one large story that somebody wrote a long time ago. (Perhaps that book that Bhagpuss keeps recommending, which I don’t want to get because it’s more fun to keep reminding ArenaNet where backstory is entirely missing from their game. :)

As one example: In Living World Season 3, Braham basically told us (the Commander) to go take a flying leap off a short pier somewhere around the middle of the season. There was never any resolution for that, and from what I remember, we never heard from Braham again after he got that scroll in those caves. We went through the entire Path of Fire story with barely a word about Braham. So that’s still hanging out there somewhere, waiting for a resolution. Is he going to re-join the fold in Living World Season 4, one, two, or three years from now? Is he going to be the new Big Bad, a bitter and broken Norn because he didn’t get to die fighting Jormag? Will there be an epic guild fight between Destiny’s Edge 2.0 and Dragon’s Watch 1.0? Who knows? But it sure seems like the kind of thing that should have some sort of resolution during the course of the past, let’s see, roughly two years of game updates.

ArenaNet seems to be counting on us to hold a whole lot of story in our memories over a very long period of time. Maybe people who play every release 20 times on 20 different characters can do that, but l’il ol’ me who only plays them once (if that hehe) is left out in the cold.

P. S. I am back up to 30 gold from dailies! I’m rich again!

GW2 – Doing Dailies

What’s this then? A ley-line anomaly guy?

Now that I know GW2 dailies give out gold, I started doing them.

They aren’t very fun to do. :) Talk about mindless busy work. No wonder I’ve been ignoring them.

I’ve never been a big fan of “doing dailies” in any MMORPG, and I usually leave a game for something else when I get to the point where that’s all there is to do. So it takes a lot of mental energy to push through these completely arbitrary, meaningless tasks.

I can deal with the ones where you simply harvest stuff on a map, because that doesn’t take very long. Well, I say that, except it does take some time when they ask you do that in Heart of Thorns territory, because sometimes you can walk for 10-20 minutes and not find a single harvesting node. (I did just that. No trees to harvest in certain parts of the jungle, apparently.) Not to mention how difficult it is to walk around in some of those areas, which I’ve beaten to death before.

My favorites are the ones where you have to go to a Vista on a map. Super easy especially with the new mounts. Sometimes I do them “the old way” just for the fun of it. These are also great because sometimes it takes me to a map I haven’t completed yet, so I can get a bit closer to World Completion while I’m at it. (I’m up to 83%!)

The dailies where you have to complete Events on a map are a bit more engaging, but can be onerous in their own way if you have to go to one of the terrible maps. Like, you know, Heart of Thorns.

The first one I tried to do asked me to complete Events in the Tangled Depths. I tried. I really did. But I gave up. I saw Events around me on the map, and I tried to get to them. I really did. But it’s not like you can teleport there; they only provide like two Waypoints in Heart of Thorns. I got stuck in a cave underneath the event with no way to go up. I got stuck in an endless tunnel filled with mobs and no exits. I got stuck in a lake that almost killed me because it was toxic. I literally could not figure out how to navigate that maze of a map to get to the event location. I finally got to what looked like some kind of an event underground, by accident, but I was there by myself fighting waves of chak and I got killed several times. (There were “revive-bots” there which healed me.) Yuck.

No daily for me that day.

One time, a daily had me complete a Bounty on the Vabbi map. [Stop changing Vabbi to Rabbi you stupid MacBook Air!] I dutifully teleported over, found and clicked on a Bounty Board, ran over to the Champion Whatever standing in the middle of another group of mobs (including veterans), and got utterly facerolled. One other guy happened by and we tried together, and we couldn’t defeat the Champion Whatever before the event timed out.

So no daily for me again.

But I keep trying. Each morning I assess whether it looks doable or not. You have to complete three out of the four choices, two of which appear to be easy (harvesting or vistas). The third one tends to stretch the limits of my patience (usually events and bounties), and the fourth one I just don’t even bother pursuing because it sounds impossible (mini-dungeons and jumping puzzles and whatnot).

I seem to remember there used to be a lot more options to choose from for dailies. I tried going through the big list of Dailies and doing some of the other ones (like Daily Winterberry Collecting), but it didn’t appear to “count” toward the 2 gold daily. I’m kind of hoping someone is going to kindly stop by and say, “Oh, it’s much easier than that, you just do X, Y, or Z.” (Which sort of makes me wonder why it doesn’t say that in the instructions up there on the screen, but that’s another issue.)

Then there is this: Two gold each day doesn’t really seem to be worth the effort. It’s like a minimum wage that isn’t a living wage. Five or ten seems more enticing to me and more in line with the prices in the game. Which is undoubtedly by design, so I’ll give up and just spend cash for the gold.

Incidentally I went back and started replaying Living Story Season 2. Wow, what a difference! For all the complaints I had about Heart of Thorns and Living Story Season 3, and the minor gripes about Path of Fire, they are light years better than Season 2 was.

GW2 – Fun While It Lasted?

I hate to say this, but once I finished the GW2 Path of Fire story, I found that my drive to keep playing rapidly dwindled. I think I understand now why they didn’t put very much of the story on the final two maps. They are less fun to play on.

Bhagpuss alluded to this early on in his first first impressions post. There is a very noticeable ramp up in difficulty from Elon Riverlands to The Desolation. I have to admit I chuckled at his nailing the exact difficulties that I routinely experience in Heart of Thorns in his description of Path of Fire:

There are mobs everywhere.  Traveling the Path of Fire is like running an endless gauntlet, assaulted at every turn. … I’ve found it nigh on impossible to do anything at all without two or three unnecessary and unwanted fights. … Every encounter seems to have at least one veteran – often several.

Yeah, that was the story of Heart of Thorns for me in a nutshell, every part of every map. At least in Path of Fire it’s only on the last two maps.

I think the essential difference between Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire is that the story of Heart of Thorns ran straight through all that difficulty (see Chapter 9!), while in Path of Fire, it doesn’t. I only started encountering increased difficulty after I finished the story. Getting 100% map completion on the first three maps, where most of the story resides, was a casual picnic, but getting the same on The Desolation is more of a grudge match, an exercise in sheer determination and willpower. There are even invisible walls blocking the jumping bunny rabbit in some places!

One thing that may have killed my enthusiasm for finishing up the maps was the Jackal mount. I was very excited to find it way down there in the corner of The Desolation where I wasn’t expecting anything. But frankly it’s not worth the effort to get it. It’s certainly not worth the outrageous 20 gold you have to spend for it. For you GW2 veterans who can’t even imagine wealth so low, 20 gold is basically my GW2 life savings.

As soon as I finished the heart and opened up the vendor (no small feat, as I fell off once trying to get those floaty energy things), I rage quit in frustration as soon as I saw the cost. I was expecting another 5 gold mount, or maybe 10 gold. When I came back later with a fresh attitude, thankfully I didn’t have to do the heart again.

I had to sell all those stacks of unidentified gear laying around my inventory. Then I had buyer’s remorse afterward, as it’s not a terribly useful or fun mount out in the world (compared with the bunny rabbit). Especially on The Desolation where you have to use the Skimmer to get over half of the terrain. I guess it could be fun to finally use those Jackal portals, but who’s going to stick around to get that many Mastery levels?

Because, like Bhagpuss, I too have noticed that the player population on the Path of Fire maps seems pretty low. In Heart of Thorns, it’s not unusual to find myself alone for a long time, but then I’ll stumble onto a big mass of people doing an event, and I’ll tag along until I get bored or need to go a different direction for whatever reason. But I don’t see anything like that on the later maps of Path of Fire. I hardly ever encounter other players doing activities on The Desolation. Nobody worked on the big meta event to get into Bad Guy Central. I had to carefully fight my way in there by myself to get to the vista and points of interest.

I hate to criticize Path of Fire, because I did enjoy the expansion while I was playing it, and it was a good price point. ArenaNet probably got a lot of good press out of the whole thing, which is great. It just seems like MMORPGs should strive for more than a week of casual fun with their expansions.

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.)

UPDATE – The Video

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.

UPDATE – The Video