A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

There's a land you promised us! Deliver us to the promised land...

As mentioned before, when I go quiet, it’s usually because things have settled into a comfortable happy rut. The same old games routine leaves nothing new to comment on.

MMO Population Blues

Wildstar seems to be undergoing its first month blues, what with one blogger announcing they’ve canceled their subscription and another commenting on how the online population appears to have dropped.

I don’t know, perhaps it’s disinterest and perhaps it’s just pragmatism, but I can’t really bring myself to be concerned one way or the other.

Guild numbers and roster counts don’t really mean anything, in my opinion, except to show that attrition always takes place over time.

In two years of GW2, I’ve seen my two main guilds bounce up and down in online players: offline members ratio and all it really says is how well each guild is doing in time – was there anyone actively recruiting, was the leadership active or did it go dormant, did anyone clean out the guild roster lately of people who lost interest in the game, etc.

They certainly didn’t reflect anything regarding overall game population numbers, considering that the best period of activity one had was when the other was almost dying, and vice versa.

The megaserver change that GW2 dropped on us is more sneaky in comparison.

I logged on today in Divinity’s Reach and consciously reveled in the fact that there were some 30-40 people running around just near the Trading Post and Bank area. “See,” I told myself, “GW2’s doing great! Look at how many people there are online!”

Then the more cynical part of my mind stopped me and said, “Ah, but don’t forget that this perception is due to the megaserver.”

Which is true and somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, imo. Crowds beget crowds. Someone who needs a social atmosphere is inclined to stay logged on if he or she sees people around them. I’m sure Tarnished Coast would be able to pull up a similar kind of number without the megaserver, but we’d probably lose those players from less crowded servers who can’t transfer off.

As for Wildstar, welp, the only ones who knows the real numbers are the devs. So let’s see how they react in the days to come. What they do or don’t do will reveal just how important they regard keeping subs, creating new subs or selling CREDD, and what their strategy is in regards to the casual/hardcore divide and earning revenue.

I’ve decided I really don’t care that much either way about the typical MMOs any longer and am just watching all the various rants from the peanut gallery and chomping down on popcorn.

GW2

I don’t need a promised land made up of dreams and future MMO sandboxes.

I’m already THERE.

I’ve been there for close to two years now. It’s not PERFECT, but it’s been comfy enough to be a home.

If I didn’t have GW2, I’d find somewhere else to settle down. The next best thing.

Probably A Tale in the Desert. Or Guild Wars 1. (City of Heroes did fine for 4-5 years running before things became a little too static and too traditional for comfort.) Wherever.

Point is, there’s so many games on the market that if someone couldn’t find something to satisfy or suffice, then the problem is probably less with the game and more about how someone is in a more nomadic than settler frame of mind.

So what have I been doing on the Guild Wars 2 front?

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

Dailies. My ritual gathering of nodes and iron ore because it’s fun.

A significant amount of Dry Top geode farming because I’m in love with the Ambrite weapons and it sort of has the meditative fun of a zerg-y champion train with more sophistication in the strats used for each event, without the utter boredom of a sequence that a bot could be programmed to perform.

Totally in love with this greatsword.

Totally in love with the Scorpiones greatsword.

Say hello to mah lil friend.

Say hello to mah lil friend.

I look forward to each recipe I get to ever so slowly buy.

I stalled out on Episode 2’s achievements due to the reputed bug in the Concordia instance and haven’t gotten around to moving beyond that. Perhaps later or when the next patch arrives. At least the stress is gone from it not being temporary content.

I poked around in the next part of the Dry Top area, since I more or less stumbled into it while hunting Lost Coins, and indulged the explorer part of me.

There's some really lovely landscapes in the next section...

There’s some really lovely landscapes in the next section…

I popped in on the Triple Trouble Wurm today, after a long time of not showing up because I got bored with the boss. Got lucky and managed to taxi in. Things went super smoothly and a kill was obtained. And you know what made me smile?

There was a little level 49 standing right in front of the Wurm chest, going “holy crap, I don’t know what just happened, I just got this game a week and a half ago, I was just here and people were saying get into Teamspeak…”‘

Then he put on his shiny new Wurm’s Bane title.

He had 449 AP.

I don’t begrudge him a thing.

This, my friends, is the beauty of Guild Wars 2 and open world raids.

It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t max level. That he didn’t have crazy gearscore or what have you. He didn’t have to spend a month or two ‘getting attuned’ or jumping hoops and matching schedules to get into a raid guild just to ‘earn’ the right to be there.

He’s never going to forget his first wurm kill.

He’s going to remember the rush of all the people around him. If he has the slightest interest, now or later on, he’ll recall the TTS guild website where he can sign up to be a member.

He’ll have one hell of a story to tell to anyone who asks how a level 49 character got his title.

(To a lesser extent, similar things can happen with guild missions. I joined my NA guild today for theirs, and for the guild challenge, the 20-25 of us DIS managed to gate crash CERN‘s Save Our Supplies disco party of 50+ and 10+ commander tags.

One lone unguilded wanderer walked by and did a double take, commenting on the size of the guild. All CERN, of course, ours is small. :) That’s one way to meet an active guild… though there’s always the trouble of seeing if they’re on the same server as you.)

DOTA 2

I got my sleep schedule twisted around a little trying to catch the International.

I faithfully caught the matches on the weekend live, then found myself getting sleepier and sleepier on the last two days and gave up, resolving to watch them later.

If anything, I have to commend Valve and the DOTA 2 crew for the sheer spectacle of the event. There’s big money involved, and no effort is spared to make it -feel- grand.

Seriously, watching DOTA 2 is a game in itself.

If you just pop on over to the website, you have the choice to watch every match with the main audio, or using the newbie stream.

The live video stream stalled a few times during the broadcast, which led me to experimenting with DOTA TV, aka watching the match from in-game itself.

It boggles the mind how intricate it all is.

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There’s matches galore from what seems like a dozen tournaments.

Scroll down, find the International, and you can download replays of every single match. Not to mention, watch and set an option to automatically spectate live games.

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Inside the game, which had upwards of 200k clients spectating during one International game (presumably at least some of those were bots hoping to get lucky drops), you could pick from 4-5 audio streams in various languages.

The highlighted scroll is the newcomer's stream.

The highlighted scroll is the newcomer’s stream. Kinda nice that they made the effort to guide people like that.

The camera itself is configurable. Let the caster show you the action from his or her point of view. Or you yourself manually follow along whatever you wanted with your own free camera.

Or chase/follow a game from each player’s perspective, which is no doubt useful for learning how to play a certain hero by watching how the pros do it, or if you have a celebrity crush on a certain player or whatever…

Quite a few exciting games out of the International this time around. Pretty much every time a once-champion team got knocked out of the running was thrilling.

One of the best turnarounds was the second match between Cloud9 and VG (July 20, starts about half an hour into the stream) which rather nicely illustrates the ebb and flow of these snowballing DOTA games, where one team can start out pretty strong over the other team and by the end of the match, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

I still keep wanting to play the actual game but always keep getting turned off by the reputed toxicity of MOBA players (aka a complete 180 from the GW2 community) as well as the amount of -time- it would take to learn enough to get past the gatekeeping layer of impatient ‘blame-others’ players.

Maybe if I wait long enough, the devs will figure out a way to manage the culture. I hear LOL has started outright banning toxic players.

Blaugust

In blogging news, Belghast is challenging bloggers to write a post every day for the month of August.

I’m kinda looking forward to the extra posts I’ll get to read from participants.

I’m probably not going to participate as I’ve more or less settled on a comfortable 1-3 day pace for myself, but it’s a good idea for those who haven’t yet tried the experiment of writing at a habitual pace.

When I first started blogging, I definitely made myself post once daily or every two days or so. It’s just a way to both make a commitment to yourself to post as well as get your blog out there to readers and search engines to pick you up.

(I have gotten slightly more lazy since then, and allowed 4-7 day lapses, but I do get antsy if I haven’t made any kind of post for a week or more and the self-nagging starts up until a post is made.)

Who knows, if the conversation picks up, I may find myself unable to resist getting a word in and posting more myself. :)

XCOM: The Blogger Edition – Part 9

xcomtitle

25 April, 2015

7.09am

Operation Morbid Thorn

Alien abduction in progress at Alexandria, Egypt

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From right to left, Cpl. Othnieltcs, Cpl. Bhagpuss, Lt. Izlain and Lt. J3w3l disembark from the transport.

Besides the heavily armored MEC trooper, the rest of the team is equipped with the new carapace armor.

We’ve also invested in a S.C.O.P.E advanced targeting module for Cpl. Bhagpuss, which gives a +10 to Aim. (That should help change the odds of hitting the broad side of a barn to something better than a coin toss.)

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The site appears to be some kind of temporary observatory or monitoring station.

All is disturbingly quiet. Cpl. Bhagpuss opens the door of the first building and finds no one inside.

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Cpl. Othnieltcs fans out to check the left flank.

The container tanks outside look a mite worrisome, with the possibility that they might be carrying some sort of flammable gas or liquid.

Then he hears it.

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The sounds of some shifting movement, not from the XCOM squad, but from the building adjacent to the first one.

Lt. Izlain joins Cpl. Bhagpuss inside the first building, and carefully opens the adjoining door.

Inside, is a veritable nest of aliens.

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A pair of Seekers, who promptly go into stealth.

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And a duo of Thin Men, doing something nefarious to their abductee.

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They scatter for cover.

Lt. Izlain only has a 57% chance to hit the Thin Man from across the room, from where he’s using the doorway as cover, but at the moment, there’s not enough pay in the whole world that could induce someone to step in there just yet.

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It will have to do.

His aim, as usual, is spot on.

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Unfortunately, it looks like the Commander has to invest in better guns soon. Only 2 damage. Everything’s still alive in there.

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The alien duo drop into Overwatch. Goodness knows where the stealthed Seekers have gone.

This would have been a good time for Lt. J3w3l’s battle scanner, but she’s busy backing up Cpl. Othnieltcs outside.

And a good thing too, because out of nowhere, a pair of Floaters rocket up with their characteristic scream.

xcom_m9_13

Cpl. Othnieltcs’ overwatch shot misses.

Feeling a little exposed with no ability to take cover, and all these potentially flammable canisters in the way, Cpl. Othnieltcs uses his superior mobility to hustle back under the sniper’s watchful eye.

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Both drop into overwatch and lie in wait for the first alien to fly by.

(Hey, if LOS around a corner is good enough for MMOs… We can play the same trick here.)

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Meanwhile, inside the building, there’s an almost tangible sense of danger in the air. Like something bulky is standing or floating in the doorway.

(It’s kind of a dead giveaway where you hold down right click and find out that you aren’t allowed to move into the room at all.

Hmm, maybe ‘dead’ was not the best choice of words to use, eh?)

There’s nothing for it but to wait, though. Neither soldier has a frag grenade that would justify moving them out of position, and Cpl. Bhagpuss can’t move and fire his rocket launcher.

Better to just cover each other in overwatch. They’ve got more armor now, right?

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The first Floater outside screams its way around the corner, and then screams again as Cpl. Othnieltcs minigun turns it into Swiss cheese for 6 points of damage.

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Inside, we have the expected Seeker strike, strangling Lt. Izlain for 2 points of damage.

Guess it’s all on Cpl. “Broad Side” Bhagpuss now.

xcom_m9_20

84% chance to hit and 50% chance to critical at this range.

xcom_m9_21

The angle’s awkward, but it’s a hit!

Though only for 3 points of damage.

It does, however, force it to recoil off Lt. Izlain and free him to catch his breath.

The wounded Seeker jumps near to the door the squad used to enter the building.

xcom_m9_22

The Bullet Swarm ability on Heavies allows them to fire twice in a turn if their first action was firing the primary weapon.

Cpl. Bhagpuss takes aim again, with a 68% chance to hit and 50% chance to critical.

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And finishes it off for good this time.

Outside, joint overwatch fire from Cpl. Othnieltcs and Lt. J3w3l takes care of the second Floater.

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(Love the corner. All hail the mighty corner.)

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Inside, that tangible sense of foreboding is still making it impossible to enter the room.

Welp, I guess we know what’s coming again.

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Yep. Called it.

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Cpl. Bhagpuss repeats his “84% chance to hit, 50% chance to critical” shot again.

This time it criticals for 6 damage and drenches Lt. Izlain in a shower of defensive stealth smokescreen as the broken machine crashes to the ground.

xcom_m9_29

(His armor, alas, does not have the right materials and surfaces to interact with the vapor and help him go invisible like the Seeker does.)

Outside, Cpl. Othnieltcs advances again, and picks up a Meld canister signature.

xcom_m9_30

The earlier one was lost, since there was no way in hell that Lt. Izlain and Cpl. Bhagpuss were going to dash into the second building (between being exposed to lots of  Thin Man shots and spit, and later a practical impossibility when the Seekers were physically blocking the doorway.)

xcom_m9_31

This one, though, seems clear enough.

Perhaps the Floaters were previously guarding it.

Cpl. Othnieltcs will pick it up in the next turn.

xcom_m9_32

It’s time for the pair in the building to venture into the second room.

All is quiet again, and assuming the Thin Men were in cover where we last saw them, the Commander orders Lt. Izlain to move up slightly to the full cover of the pillar on the left.

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To everyone’s surprise, a Thin Man pops up from where he was previously crouching unseen and takes a reaction shot at Lt. “Bad Luck” Izlain.

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That’s 3 damage of hot plasma pistol burns to the chest.

Okay, that’s seriously taking protectiveness testing of the new carapace armor a little too far.

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Wanting to return the favor, Lt. Izlain takes aim for a 92% chance to hit and 10% chance to critical.

This is the previously wounded Thin Man, so 1 damage is all it takes to kill it.

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The shot misses…

Cpl. Bhagpuss is somehow just out of line of sight of this sneaky little git and can’t fire.

It may have been a slight tactical misstep to dash up to the telescope in the center of the room and wait for the next turn, instead of moving up to the furthest railing and seeing if the Thin Man was in line of sight then.

(The Commander was generally nervous about moving up too far and finding more aliens lurking in wait to take advantage of a separated squad.)

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The slimy little Thin Man repositions itself…

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…flanking Cpl. Bhagpuss from behind and nails him for 4 damage.

All this, when it’s only got 1 bar of health left!

What is it? Some kind of Thin Man hero?

Heroes become martyrs though.

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Two can play at that reposition and flank game.

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91% chance to hit, 50% chance to critical…

xcom_m9_41

…and a full automatic burst from Cpl. Bhagpuss’ LMG finally puts paid to the wannabe alien legend.

Outside, Cpl. Othnieltcs has retrieved the Meld canister and the MEC trooper and sniper duo move up to enter the building from the side doors.

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One disadvantage of moving too quickly with powered mechanical limbs, it’s impossible to stop and turn on a dime.

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Cpl. Othnieltcs crashes through the first door to find the last Thin Man unexpectedly in that small room.

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It gets to take a 4 damage reaction shot as the MEC trooper rushes right past.

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By the time Cpl. Othnieltcs screeches to a stop, he’s well into the next room.

Oh well, he’s got 14 armor and health bars to work through anyway.

And the Thin Man really doesn’t have that kind of time.

xcom_m9_46

Who knows if aliens think or dream? But if they did, I imagine the last thought going through this one’s head would be “Life’s so terribly unfair.”

A sniper lying in wait outside to cut off any hopes of escape.

In the other direction, 99% chance to hit, 60% to critical, from a minigun wielded by a ten-foot tall mechanical exoskeleton suit.

xcom_m9_47

That’s all she wrote.

xcom_m9_48

Operation Morbid Thorn ends at 5.09am.

6 aliens killed.

0 XCOM operatives lost.

1 out of 2 Meld canisters recovered.

xcom_m9_aar

All in a day’s work for our experienced XCOM squad.

The carapace armor seems to be working relatively well. Our only casualty is Lt. Izlain who has to take 4 days to recover from first-degree burns to the chest and some minor bruising around the neck.

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We also seem to have picked up some extra medals. Any nominations?

Hooray, with this post, we’ve finally caught up to the present day and I get to play XCOM again shortly.

I do hope the long interval hasn’t left me too out of practice…

GW2: Entanglement – First Impressions

entanglement1

Going to write this post without spoilers, and I suspect I will end up echoing Bhagpuss, dancing around in generalities and going “Blimey, Charlie!

Except my phrase veers more towards “Damn, that was satisfying.”

Not because I liked what happened in this episode, mind you – some bits veered towards the dangerously melodramatic – but because from a structural and design perspective, I think Arenanet has hit upon something promisingly good here.

We go back to Guild Wars 1 yet again, where each story mission one played through meant a development of the plotline. There were ups and downs and change happened.

You remembered them because you got to play through each and every episode, at your own pacing, rather than end up with gaps in the story because you couldn’t log on for that particular week or two.

Much of GW2’s first season reminded me of a family roadtrip where the players kept stridently asking “Are we there yet?”

A tiny bit of plot happened, a small part almost lost in a larger picture of frantic open world achievement and taking on whatever new mechanical developments there were (often in a zerg fashion), leaving players confused and perplexed by the one-liner plot, often summarized as “Something happened, and we still don’t know what’s going on,” then later, “Scarlet did it.”

Like an amateurish novel writer who thinks all the mystery would be lost if the readers actually knew what was going on, the writers played everything with cards close to their chest – hinting at something happening, but not saying much more than that. That led to plenty of unfounded speculation, some of which was much better than the simplistic linear plot actually taking place but not shown to anybody.

Some players might have wanted to know more but having to wait 2-4 weeks later (an understandable and reasonable length of time for the actual game experience and rewards earning part of temporary, seasonal content) for the -next- story snippet, generally made everybody stir-crazy in the process and having promptly forgotten what happened before by the time the next update rolled around.

For instance, some players are still trying to figure out why we’re suddenly such pals with the B-Iconics, or Destiny’s Edge 2.0 and how they’ve ended up calling our characters ‘boss.’

I drew a blank when first thinking about it too, but cudgeling the brain reminded me that I first met Marjory and Kasmeer to solve a Lion’s Arch mystery that involved an Aetherblade attack, meeting them at the Dead End Bar in Divinity’s Reach.

From there, we went on to fighting together in the Tower of Nightmares, taking on the Marionette, defending the city of Lion’s Arch from Scarlet and so on. One almost doesn’t remember it because one mostly only saw the NPCs in passing, in the open world, usually when the brain is busy focused on not-story but achieving something.

We go even further back with Rox and Braham, when they were refugees from Flame & Frost. We fought with them through the Molten Facility (some of us through several dozens of Molten Facilities, dat monocle drop! Beet soup was the best I ever got.)

I vaguely recall helping Rox with Tequatl, oddly trying to track down the beastie  with a footprint, though he usually came by on the hour every hour and has subsequently been taken apart repeatedly to the extent that everyone mostly remembers the Tequatl’s Hoard drop (or lack of it) as the most memorable incident of that update, and not the actual plot step.

We were there with the whole group through the Crown Pavilion and Queen’s Gauntlet events, preventing Queen’s Jennah’s assassination and fending off endless waves of invading Twisted Clockwork, we investigated the Fractals and the Edge of the Mists with some of them, and there were probably more things that I don’t remember offhand.

Each story step was so piecemeal and staggered, disconnected in theme and linked only tenuously by a mad sylvari, that it’s hard to absorb that it all really did happen.

In Season 2 of Guild Wars 2, I can confidently answer, “We may not be there yet, but we’re certainly -moving.-“

The sense of movement is evident in the storyline now.

Things happen. The plot is better structured and developed. There are going to be more obvious ups-and-downs akin to GW1. More “your character is important and the center of your universe” focused stuff, and not just “your character is one of a big faceless crowd in the open world.”

There’s a sense of movement with the opening up of a new part of Dry Top. Exploration is going forward.

Really digging the look of the new parts. Very canyon-like and rocky. If only I didn't explore most of it in a sandstorm.

Really digging the look of the new parts. Very canyon-like and rocky. If only I didn’t explore most of it in a sandstorm. Time to go back later.

NPCs are moving along with that – the very talkative and almost-annoying Priory NPCs have changed position and are now saying different story-and-lore related stuff.

NPCs in the town of Prosperity are reacting to the preponderance of massive vines that have suddenly grown up all around them. (That’s not a spoiler, I hope, that seems to be the most obvious part of what was going to happen in an episode titled “Entanglement.”)

Dry Top is now twice as big, with new things to do in the part we haven’t seen yet.

Presumably, we might be opening up more zones in the Maguuma jungle this way, over time, and I’m good with this.

Players will still be focused into a relatively small region at any one point in time. Folks that come later might miss some of that launch feel, but still have the option of working their way through the area by themselves at a more sedate, casual, solo pace. (Just don’t expect to unlock all of the zone’s Favor mechanic tiers by yourself. Higher tiers are definitely group content.)

The only negative I can think of is that we’re still missing a good transitional cutscene between episodes.

Between the Labyrinthine Cliffs and Episode 1: Gates of Maguuma, we know the Zephyrite ships exploded and crashed. We don’t actually see that happen in-game, but only as a teaser trailer outside the game. Our transition on entering the zone is just seeing the wreckage of the Zephyrite ships, but not what actually happened.

Between Episode 1: Gates of Maguuma and Episode 2: Entanglement, vines have suddenly grown up in a lot of places. If you follow developments on Reddit, or just paid attention to what was gradually changing around you, you might have caught sight of vines starting to tap on waypoints like they’re Mordremoth’s new snack to nom. But it still feels a tide abrupt to suddenly walk into Prosperity and go “WTF, when did this happen?”

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An introductory cutscene on a clickable button in the Story Journal, or that plays on zone load just like in the Tower of Nightmares update, might mitigate some of that weird feeling of instantaneous change.

In general, the layered content feels just right.

For the casual, what they want is -story-. That’s best conveyed in a small instance, solo or grouping at one’s choice, with plenty of conversation.

For those interested in achievements, re-use the same content and get them to do more complicated things. Players who like meta stuff like achievements generally won’t mind a repeated grind of the same content (as long as they can skip the long-talky stuff) just to get their shiny gold star for doing whatever teacher wants.

The open world opens up further, creating a feeling of progress – and folks can choose at will to casually wander through, with GW2’s organic grouping design naturally creating allies out of the players near you, or take on the zone’s content at a higher, more organized level for faster shiny but non-essential rewards.

(If only we didn’t have to taxi in people one at a time – but perhaps that is part of the intent, to force -some- player interaction and self-organization . Though it mostly feels like a workaround.)

And boy, are the rewards shinier in this episode.

The skins are here. Tons of weapon skins.

Tier 4 and Tier 5 are where they unlock, and I’m hoping this gives more impetus for more players to work on the zone’s Favor mechanic.

I’m personally digging the look of the Ambrite weapons, something that hasn’t happened in a while since the Dreamthistle lot, and I suspect it’s going to take quite a long time to work one’s way through all the geodes.

I hope this means that Dry Top is going to be a well-traversed area, something like the next Frostgorge Sound champion train, regularly frequented by a group of level 80s who enjoy a slightly more sophisticated champion bag farm.

Time will tell, I guess. I’ll see how many I can unlock before the place loses critical mass. I’ll be happy with one or two, which I’m sure is doable within these two weeks, but collecting them all eventually would be cool!

The Gem Shop Ley Line weapons are also rather appealing visually. I like the idea of carrying a symbolic reminder of a very beautiful locale that got opened up this episode. They’ve got that blue fire guardian look to them. I might end up branching out some time for Black Lion Key farming, hoping to get lucky.

Of course, beyond actually obtaining one, another problem I face is an unwillingness to change weapon or theme on my main characters. My charr guardian is red and fire. My charr warrior is yellow and metal. My asura guardian is green/blue and holograms. My sylvari necro is green/black/white/gold and gothic. My norn thief is brown and natural leather.

I have no idea who I can put it on, even if I do get one. Will figure that out later, I suppose.

In the meantime, lots of stuff to do in this episode.