At long last, it seems like ArenaNet has worked their way towards something good here, through the iterative design of the first season.
The Story Journal brings back some of the epic, episodic story feeling of Guild Wars 1, where each story mission was a new chapter and a new development in a narrative that eventually went somewhere.
We see the personal story that has gone before in more logical fashion, broken up into three arcs. One, your true personal story, the best bit that gets customized by your choices at character creation.. The next, The Orders of Tyria as determined by the order you chose. And finally, what’s more unofficially known as Trahearne’s story, the story of the invasion of Orr to defeat Elder Dragon Zhaitan.
Living Story Season 1 has yet to be re-worked to fit into this, but it looks like a very promising new beginning.
Episode 1 has three story instances involving combat and what appears on one solo play-through to be fairly decent boss fights with interesting mechanics. I assume these can be done in a group as well, though I chose to take my first run at them solo, which is the best of all possible worlds.
They can be replayed to strive for more ‘hardmode’ optional achievements, but the frantic urgency to complete them is gone, since one knows they can now be attempted at leisure. I suspect I’ll get around to doing most of them by fortnight’s end, but I no longer feel compelled to drop every other thing I’ve been doing in GW2 -just- to get it done before the seasonal content vanishes for good (or for another year.)
It has two more ‘plot points’ – one involving a small conversation and object interaction investigative story instance akin to some Living Story 1 scenes in the Dead End Bar, where one pokes around items left behind by Scarlet and draws some conclusions from them. These bits feel like candy bars for lore fans, especially those of an exploratory nature. I count myself as one of them and it’s been an absolute treat.
It feels like Anet is listening to some of the criticisms that decry the use of out-of-game channels like short stories on the website or social media to convey valuable information about an NPC.
The writers and level designers, once initially stumped about how a psychotic sylvari would stop her relentless depredations to tell her opponents about her origins, have finally figured out that clues and hints can be conveyed indirectly by letting us examine her ‘rooms’ – what objects a character owns, in his or her pockets, or rooms, or living spaces can say a lot about them.
As an explorer, I was very thrilled to find that there were additional clues intentionally left unmarked, beyond the main highlighted ones that Destiny’s Edge 2.0 points out.
Long after Braham and Rox, Marjory and Kasmeer walk out and the instance exit button was hovering on the right of my screen, I was keeping Taimi company as we poked around at -everything-. Playing a little object hunting game by moving my mouse all over to see what else highlighted and could be clicked on to interact with.
The last ‘plot point’ is a conversation with an NPC in the open world, which rather neatly brings you back out (story-wise) into the open world to continue your narrative how you choose, perhaps even following up an intriguing hint re: Scarlet. I haven’t had time to poke around Dry Top much, let alone find any secrets or hidden stuff, so I don’t know if there’s anything more to this yet, but it’s certainly something to do.
Which brings us to our new permanent zone, or maybe I should say, permanent “region” of Dry Top.
I truly wonder how Anet intends to handle these zones – are we really going to have a crashed Zephyrite ship here until the end of time?
I don’t think so. It doesn’t make sense.
I suspect these will follow the way of the open world content of Season 1. They’ll probably exist in this state for 2-4 weeks, giving us time to earn the token rewards off the merchants, and then convert to a more ‘aftermath’ sort of map like Kessex Hills.
Some have criticized Anet for such a ‘small’ permanent zone. They want VAST, HUGE, expansive zones!
I wonder if they realize just how -dense- the content is layered within this small space.
I personally would rather prefer a small, well-done region per episode than vast, barren areas containing naught but one main quest chain to be consumed a la WoW or Wildstar and then abandoned.
There seem to be quite a number of dynamic events in the area. It’s the nature of the beast to not be able to experience them all in one go.
As I approached Dry Top for the first time in the Brisban Wildlands, I saw the last bit of an event to clear regrown vines blocking the way to Dry Top, but didn’t even managed to get a hit in for any reward before the event vanished. That’s something else to catch next time.
I ran across the Inquest stealing crystal shards event, but it was so crowded and laggy (but that one’s my fault since I cranked settings back up to enjoy my story instances in non-ugly mode, my framerate tends to collapse to single digits once I run into a zerg with those settings on), that one was still figuring out what to do with the boulders that one didn’t even see the crystal spawn location until way too late to run them. And of course, there were barely any Inquest NPCs even managing to get their hands on a crystal since everyone and their mother was trying to knock them down for the achievement, which I didn’t manage to get either. Something else to get around to, later.
I -did- manage to enjoy a fight against the Colocal Queen, possibly because it was so fatal to anyone trying to solo it for the first time. I get the feeling that many of the boss mechanics of this episode are doing their best to declare all out war against melee zerkers, which imo, is as it should be. The dungeon meta shouldn’t be allowed to work -all- the time.
As a zerker who passed on that last few 5-10% incremental dps for the ability to rapidly flip between range and melee, I found my flexibility a lot more handy for exploring new fights and accept the punishing downs and deaths for not yet having figured out a tell or a counter yet.
The Colocal Queen took 3-4 waypoint runs back, even as its dropping hp bar attracted a total of 5-7 other people, up from the 1-3 people we started with (mostly taking turns to fall over in one good hit of her charge.) Still, she seems doable once everyone figures out her mechanics. The art of dodging sideways can protect you from her charge in a line, though I couldn’t make out her tell very well and it was very touch and go to dodge only as the rectangle comes out. (The perils of latency and bad framerate, I suppose, I’ll be wandering around with zerg settings later and seeing if that makes any difference.)
I did fall over in a heap when she pounced though, and couldn’t quite get my dodge timings right to avoid that yet. Perhaps this is where Anet expects some people to use the new Toughness, Healing, Vitality armor to stand up and be de facto tanks. That’s not to say that there’s any kind of ‘forcing’ involved, as it’s still quite possible to zerker zerg rush it down, as long as you don’t mind sacrificing 1-3 members of your group at any one time and rezzing them up. But maybe life would be easier if there was one person in the open world who did that. Maybe. We’ll see how things develop.
I saw a region-wide alert for a Devourer Queen that had spawned, but never quite managed to get to it in time.
On the front page of Reddit is praise for Three-Toed Tootsie, which I haven’t seen at ALL just yet.
I did get to catch the Skritt Burglar as a whole horde of people chased after him, and managed to get turned into a llama, so yay.
Who knows what other events are there just yet?
All these dynamic events apparently feed into the big zone-wide ‘help the Zephyrites’ mega-event, which upgrades merchant tiers, making new items available and making them cheaper and cheaper. So far, the random maps I’ve gotten in on have only hit Tier 2. Presumably, it will take a focused organized effort to hit Tier 4 within 40 minutes, which is content for big groups!
The last 20 minutes of each hour is a Sandstorm event, where the whole place effectively turns into a giant dust cloud. The zone turns into a giant treasure hunt for buried chests, and I see the opportunity for commander tags marking chest locations and a zone-wide cooperative effort to lead everyone to lots of chests at some future point.
There’s an amusing giant dark room in the mines to the northeast, where one can apparently search for the Legendary Llama. Seen no hide nor hair of him just yet either.
All the praise for sky crystal hunting in Labyrinthine Cliffs have carried over to Dry Top. Now the search is for lucky coins, and the zephyrite movement crystals have a time limit on them, which adds a certain haste and challenge.
10 seconds is a tide on the short side though, I wish they were a little more generous and went for 15 or 20, to account for first time exploration and folks with higher latencies. It’s not impossible at 10 seconds, but it does require more precision jump-from-here-to-there don’t-deviate actions and more frustration to keep going back for crystals when the time limit runs out. That’s a recipe less for casual relaxed exploration, and more of a push towards “perhaps I should read a dulfy guide that tells me where to jump and stop wasting my time.”
There’s apparently a jumping puzzle, as well as a diving goggles location, neither of which I’ve gotten around to.
All in all, it feels good.
There’s stuff to do, but I was able to log out after an hour and attend to other things like casually reading a book in RL, and not feel like I have to consume it all now.
There will be time enough in this week to play around in Dry Top as folks figure more and more things out.
P.S. I clean forgot to mention the fabulous music of the zone. The effort to get orchestral music in was well spent. Sent thrills up my spine every time a track played. And you can hear it all on Soundcloud. Maclaine Diemer has effortlessly stepped into the very big shoes that Jeremy Soule used to fill and done both Arenanet and the world of Tyria proud.