GW2: Verbosely Replying to Bhagpuss

I haven’t had time to blog because I’ve been too busy cramming in doing stuff in GW2 among ongoing delving in Path of Exile and dabbling in Warframe.

(You’re getting this quick and dirty response because I busted the character limit by a hair when attempting to comment reply to Bhagpuss’ impressions of Living Story Episode 4: A Star to Guide Us.)

That’s perhaps the highest praise I can produce for whatever Anet is doing right in this episode, that I’m more happy to be playing and -experiencing- the content, than complaining or commentating on it because something broke or didn’t feel right.

Beyond very tiny niggles like getting stuck in map geometry here and there because I like to climb all the things and a hiccupping instance that occasionally gets confused as to which phase its in and some eyebrow raising scaling, there’s a LOT more done right this episode.

It reads a bit like a love letter to some of our long ago wishes, hopes and dreams.

I recall Bhagpuss liked Rift’s planar invasions… some of the public events in Jahai Bluffs feels almost cut out of that same cloth.

I loved little places of peace like the peach tree in Lake Doric and Erana’s Peace in an old Quest For Glory game, Sun’s Refuge is like those places writ large, complete with a jukebox playing music from GW1 and GW2 and historical nostalgic lore references back to GW1.

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gw2-sunref

People wanted armor rewards that weren’t tied to raiding, and we get Elegy/Requeim armor. Others missed world bosses and map metas, and Death Branded Shatterer feels almost like Tequatl in the old days of “this will be a disaster till people learn how to do it properly.”

gw2-dbshat

Raiding-wise, I’m honestly not very representative of the mindset of a hardcore raider – I lack the competitive drive and overall obsession, for one, and do not really get emotional kicks of triumphant fiero on defeating a raid boss as a general rule.

But the boss mechanics in Mythwright Gambit feel good this time, in that they are predictable.

Pattern recognition seems to me to be part of why raiding is fun for some, to be able to predict what the boss will do and devise strategies to defeat it – a sort of intricate dance, where the strategy formulation is more fun, rather than feeling frustrated because you know what to do but can’t execute because the reaction time required is too short, or because RNG screwed you over by having unpredictable and unwinnable positions turn up.

Predictable equals tangible progress because people can learn the right dance moves through repetition, rather than hoping everyone can react in time and not err in human fashion.

There’s a lot more role and responsibility division / group splitting which has a certain appeal to the solo part of me. You have a job, you do it, that contributes to overall team success when it’s time to come together. I think as long as it stays simple, it’s not too bad – it might get frustrating if those individual responsibilities get made too complex and your team progression winds up at the mercy of someone who just can’t manage it.

The difficulty feels aimed pretty well at a middle of the road raider, not pitched at and balanced for the very topmost.

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The first boss is fairly easy, my group brute forced their way through our first day, after a few aborted attempts, as a number of our party coming in blind. I was honestly still mostly confused about the mechanics after we had won. Only reviewing the wiki and a video in preparation for challenge mode clued me in more.

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The second boss is more middle of the road, it took our group the rest of the raid night to manage it. It involved splitting the team into separate groups, and mechanics were such that you needed the whole team to understand individually how to respond correctly to certain attacks. A bit of repetition got our relatively experienced team through.

I appreciated that tells were relatively clear and gave enough time to prepare to react, for the most part, though things were made complicated by the small size of the enemy model and the general visual chaos of GW2 combat. There was only one thing, small red circles appearing under each player’s feet, that was not visually clear and could have used some of the garish yellow warning coloration in the UI that now accompanies the teleport circles for Vale Guardian and Cairn.

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The last and third boss took a separate night to deal with. I suspect he most resembles what other MMOs expect from raids. There are distinct phases and patterns to learn. Players have to split up into three or four groups at times and then come back together. There’s quite a bit of general lethality and wipes if someone makes a mistake.

I really liked the design of the arena for this fight. The geometric patterns on the floor provide useful cues for where things are going to happen, making a positioning reliant fight easier to predict. Especially interesting is the use of proximity as the aggro mechanic – no easy highest toughness = tank here. It takes groupwork to let the proper tank tank. Everyone else has to stay further away than the tank.

Our group eventually repeated their way through to success, but it was certainly touch and go, since it was our first time seeing whatever the hell happened after the boss reached below 33% health. The tension and excitement was palpable, and I’m not ashamed to admit this was one of the rare times which I actually did experience some fiero after defeating the boss. Not long enough to get frustrated by repeated failure from teammates, not relegated to a role that I disliked and would do badly at; the lack of those bad feelings allowed the joy of victory to take its proper place, rather than sheer relief.

I’m actually looking forward to more of this boss fight weekly, because there’s quite a lot more to pattern optimize – everyone was making mistakes left, right and center in our first attempt and things can only get better and smoother from here as people get more comfortable with it.

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The story (limited as it is – apparently you go for a tour of the mystic forge at Zomorros’ invitation and find that he has an ulterior motive for asking you because he had a mutinous compatriot issue, which your gleefully homicidal group of ten eagerly dealt with without much prompting) is pushed to more of a post-mortem reflection, which is better. Those interested can chat with the NPC after the fact of boss killing, rather than wind up in a conflict between listening to the chatter and getting on with making things dead.

(The environments are gorgeous. Which I think is a more than good enough trade for not too much story in raid instances. Far more enjoyable too after the wing is cleared; I turn settings down way low in raids to prioritize better performance.)

I’m a lot happier to talk about the main story in the Living Story episodes, obliquely, of course.

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Despite the disgraced narrative designer claiming over Twitter that everything in the coming episodes is her handiwork, I think I’d trust the current Anet devs’ comments that the new lead writer Samantha Wallschlaeger and the Open World writer Lily Yu had a far greater hand in steering the story ship.

It’s good.

More dramatic mood, characters who take the lore seriously and have impactful conversations, there’s always a little conflict in every story instance (not everyone will agree on the right direction to go in) and ups-and-downs that feel intentionally introduced for pacing purposes – a happy or comic moment segues into a sad or serious one into a triumphant one into something bittersweet, and so on.

On the whole, I’d call this episode well done. If only it didn’t take so long to produce. But well, we got a big map out of it and a lot more besides. Coulda been a lot worse.

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3 thoughts on “GW2: Verbosely Replying to Bhagpuss

  1. Bhagpuss says:

    Always a surprise to see my name in the title of a blog post – usually a pleasant one!

    The official feedback thread on the forum is both shorter and much more positive than usual, both factors being explained by its being free of almost all the usual complaints. In Jahai BIuffs map chat I have heard a number of people claiming it’s either the best map for ages or ever, depending on their taste in hyperbole. Mrs Bhagpuss, who has barely set foot in any Living Story map for teh whole of Season 4, is in the other room battling the New, new Shatterer even as I type. I don’t know exactly what’s happened at ANet but clearly something has.

    I think the unmistakeable change of tone in the story just has to be down to the major shake-up caused by the Unfortunate Incident earlier in the summer. It would be too much of a co-incidence otherwise. The overall direction of the plot may still be traveling along the lines laid down by the departed duo but that’s a minor factor when compared to the huge improvement in dialog, pacing and structure. This chapter actually made sense ffs!

    Anyway, it’s all jolly encouraging. As must have been evident, I was about at the end of my tether with GW2 before this arrived but now they’re back on a long leash. Or I am. That metaphor’s going nowhere. What I mean is, I’m enjoying the PvE aspect of the game more than I have for over a year and I’m cautiously optimistic for the future. Never happier than when I’m proved wrong over something like this – I’m glad I got my doubts down on paper before the turnaround, too – it’s a good benchmark for where we go from fhere.

  2. Bhagpuss says:

    As an addendum, I hadn’t read the reddit thread you linked before I commented. I realy should have. Geez. Reading between the lines – and you don’t have to squint much at all for that – ANet staffer Heather is clearly signalling a sea-change in the work environment. “Huge shout outs to our lead writer, Samantha Wallschlaeger, and our Open World writer, Lily Yu, for not only being incredible devs to work with on a professional and personal level, but for truly elevating the writing of GW2 with this release…this was honestly one of the smoothest development cycles I’ve experienced…I’m the team lead for this release, and I had the absolute best time working with them.”

    I mean, if you’d been responsible for the previous episodes and you heard that the new boss thought your replacement had “elevated” the writing, how would you interpret it?

    • Jeromai says:

      If you were you-know-who, you’d claim credit for that on behalf of all women.

      Because clearly, your input pushed forward the cause of all womankind. Oh, and the GW2 story too.

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