I don’t know what we’re calling this Icebrood Saga thing. Is it Living World Season 5? Or is it something else entirely? I don’t know. I’ve seen people calling it Season 5 so that’s probably the label that will stick in the community. It’s a lot easier than “Icebrood Saga.” (I’m certainly not going to be abbreviating it “IS” because I don’t particularly want a bunch of Middle Eastern terrorists showing up on my web site.)
Whatever else it might be, it’s definitely an admission that there will be no new expansion for at least a year and a half. Unless this is going to be a really short season.
Possibly some mild spoilers below. Although it’s not the kind of story where a spoiler would hurt it. It’s not dependent on any shocks or surprises. And it’s a prologue.
Brace yourselves everyone: Bound by Blood is … good? I can’t believe I’m saying that, but it’s a huge shift in style from Living World Season 4. And 3 and 2.
Traditionally, the Living World seasons are the punishment for completing the previous expansions. Completed the base game? Your punishment is not getting to play Living World season 1 anymore, and instead jumping right into the quadruple-hardcore season 2. Completed the vertical hell of Heart of Thorns (which was punishment enough*)? Here’s season 3 to grind you into a fine paste all over again. Enjoyed the return to simplicity in Path of Fire*? Well, have season 4 to remind you that you are just an ant to be squashed under the weight of random mechanics and tedium. Your very first fight will take a good 45 minutes!
Strangely, the basic building blocks of Bound by Blood are the exact same as every previous Living World episode: Some story reason deposits us on a brand new map somewhere in the world, and forces us to explore it. The map is filled with the kind of dynamic events that we’re all familiar with, and they’re on a regular schedule to keep daily players grinding until the next episode comes out. That’s where the similarity ends though.
I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what’s different, but there’s definitely something different. It’s … not annoying. The map is pleasant to navigate around in. I don’t feel like I’m being punished whenever I want to go somewhere (cough Dragonsfall cough). It’s not a chore to explore. I can look at something in the distance, become interested in checking it out, and make my way over to it without anything jumping up to stop me, like walls, or packs of enemies that take ten minutes to kill. There are conversations popping up all around that are interesting to eavesdrop on. The scenery is pleasant to look at. It’s mostly green grass and trees. There’s no dark purple lightning clouds of doom swirling around all the time. It’s … dare I say it … fun?
I did all four of the scheduled events. The concert, the ghost hunt, the ooze pits, and the fire ceremony. Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t been forced to by the story, but they also weren’t annoying. They varied in quality, but they were all throwbacks to the group dynamic events on the original maps. (I swear there were more players in the metal concert event than I saw on launch day of WoW Classic.) I didn’t care for the Sacred Flame event, though, because I couldn’t figure out how it worked until it ended (yet somehow I still got a gold medal, and I got credit on the green progress bar for the story, so that was the important part). Also, having to stand around waiting for 15 minutes for each event to start wasn’t very conducive to good video recording, but that’s not really the game’s fault.
I also did the demolition derby once. It was … well, it consumed time. That’s about all I felt about it. Driving around spamming random abilities in the hope that something good happens is not really my jam. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but considering I don’t have any interest in achievements or any of the loot that Guild Wars 2 provides (the devaluation of loot in GW2 is one of its biggest faults), there’s no real point in learning how to git gud at it.
It’s still irritating that there are only a couple of waypoints, though. They haven’t changed that yet. I don’t know why the company-wide policy changed from waypoints everywhere to only two or three waypoints per map, but I don’t really care for it. I suppose it’s to make the mounts more useful. But really, the mounts aren’t that fast.
The story is still in its beginning stages, so I don’t have much of a stake in it yet. Perhaps that’s one reason I’m enjoying this prologue so much. It’s all a big unknown right now, so there’s an air of mystery and discovery. Apparently the Charr have three factions fighting for control. And some “renegade” faction, or something like that. And nobody seems to like Aurene dropping out of the sky now and then to nuke bad things. I can see why that might make people nervous, and I can see that being an interesting story direction to explore. It’s pretty similar to that classic story, “Hey, shouldn’t we make a plan in case Superman turns against us?”
It would be nice to get away from Aurene for a while, though. I’d much rather explore the Game of Charr Thrones storyline. And it’s also nice to get a little break from Taimi for a while. She’s fantastic, but she’s also … always there. Season 4 was basically the Taimi show. Except … she didn’t die. I guess they’re going to drag that out. Timescales on Guild Wars 2 storyline arcs are almost geological at this point. Or I guess they can just erase it from the plot.
One thing I always find fascinating about Guild Wars 2 is listening to the sound of Rytlock’s voice. I’m constantly trying to think about how in the actual hell to make human vocal cords sound like he does. I mentioned in one of my streams that I’d love to see a The Making Of Rytlock’s Voice video, and it turns out they actually did a short little interview with the guy, Steve Blum. It turns out his voice naturally has that crazy low fry in it. I still think they do some processing on it, though-maybe a tiny bit of distortion-because he didn’t quite sound the same in the vocal booth as he does in the game.
While I was on their channel, I looked at some of the other “Behind the Voice” videos and found out that Emmy-award-winning Sam Riegel of TV’s Critical Role voices Braham! I had no idea that was him. (I suspect they do a little post-processing on his voice, too.) It does sort of explain why Braham has largely turned into a comic relief character lately. (I also found out that Matt Mercer voices the Male Norn player character, which I didn’t know either. I recall being somewhat annoyed by the Male Norn player’s voice in the past hehe.)
Speaking of voices, it sounded like Kas and Jory have new voice actors. Well, definitely Jory, I wasn’t quite sure about Kas. She only had about four sentences of dialog. One thing that makes me nervous in games is when well-known voice actors start disappearing. I don’t see that as a sign of “health” in the game’s parent company, because I feel like that’s one of those expenses that businesses love to cut corners on. So when voice actors start to disappear or change, I immediately think, “Uh oh, they’re running out of money.”
And now that I’ve written all that, I only had one more little chapter to play before finishing the Prologue. The one where the other shoe drops and we find out the real direction of the story. I like it so far. The overarching affair is a little too much of a “punching Nazis” comic book cliche for my more nuanced, adult political tastes but the kids like to turn everything into a black-and-white film of 1930s Germany these days, and that apparently now includes the ArenaNet writers. I’m at least glad to see that they’ve setup plausible motivations for the bad guys. But I prefer the more personal setup for the family conflict between Rytlock and Ryland and Crecia.
In any case, a really amazing thing happened at the end of the Prologue: I didn’t feel like I had slogged through a punishing ordeal, happy to put the game away again for a few more months. I usually think, “Whew, thank God that’s over.” This time I thought, “Oh no, that’s it??” I actually felt like I … wanted to play more. It was a very strange, unfamiliar feeling after a Living World episode.
I think overall it’s a real throwback to the type of gameplay that was really enjoyable when leveling from 1 to 80. I’m extremely skeptical about it lasting, but it would be nice.
* I realize that opinions vary on whether Heart of Thorns or Path of Fire was the more punishing expansion. :)