GW2: That Multiheaded Hydra – Choice Paralysis & Dailies & Story Overwhelm

Guild Wars 2 has always been a haven in the MMO space for horizontal progression.

No vertical forever-treadmill where one chases higher and higher numbers, for glory and ambition or merely for the sake of not falling behind. Proponents of lateral progression, of which I am one of them, herald the inherent freedom in being able to strike out along multiple paths and feel like one is still earning valuable rewards.

Instead of a blinders-like simplicity of hanging clothes on your virtual doll to make numbers go up, there are the spicier complex options of following your heart and intrinsic motivation (or simple whim) and having a variety of stuff fall into your pockets regardless, or strategically optimizing different maximized routes towards different goals.

Such goals could be specific pretty clothes for your virtual doll, or specific gear/resources that make numbers go up (to a point) or change the numbers around more easily, or gaining knowledge and practice in improving player skill (thus making numbers also go up), or making other numbers (gold, achievement points, etc.) go up.

Lately though, I’ve been wondering if there might come a point when enthusiastically added content over a long period of time might ever amount to TOO much.

Take GW2 dailies:

We began with a simple daily tab (and a weekly tab that has now since been removed). There were PvE dailies, PvP dailies, WvW dailies. Doing a mix of those or solely those in the game mode one prefers, nets you the daily reward. Sounds great! Flexibility of choice and all that, no?

Somehow, over time, we’ve had EVEN MORE daily tabs added. There’s festival dailies, when a festival is running. Dailies for strike missions, dailies for fractals, dailies for a whole bunch of living world season zones if you happen to be still doing those and a very random one for krait hunting and swim infusions.

Roughly a week ago, Mailvatar was lamenting about how dailies in most games cause FOMO. I can confidently say that GW2 does not have that specific problem with its dailies, because there is no human being that can finish all of GW2’s dailies in a day, and repeat that feat for days on end.

No, seriously, the above are not all the dailies there really are in GW2. GW2efficiency will tell you that THESE are all the things that reset on a daily cycle that would net you rewards.

All 286 of them. Many on timers. Some group content. All the jumping puzzles in the world (literally.) Go.

Go on, go.

Go do your dailies!

Hahahaha. Mental shutdown is more likely.

Out of pure survival, I can pretty much guarantee that every single GW2 player knows how to pick and choose what dailies they want to do. Be it absolutely none of them (except by accident) or a very specific subset of them.

But rest assured, it IS a subset.

Heck, I’m a GW2 veteran, dealing with dailies is small beans. When I decided to restart GW2 and go after Chuka and Champawat, I made my own mini-kanban on Notion to figure out what dailies I wanted to do. Priority: earn game money; Condition: please don’t make me face instanced group content daily.

The actual three dailies for 2 gold, the ley line anomaly, maybe some map metas or world bosses that bring in gold, some gathering nodes and so on are on the list. Everything else is not.

When I get bored of that pattern, I’ll change it up. It’s not like I have a SHORTAGE of possible dailies I could be doing.

The quest for Chuka and Champawat followed the same idea.

Here’s a long term project that you’ve decided is your goal, here’s your customised quest list to go get the materials you want. Direction. Focus. Narrowing down of options amidst a sea of possibles.

Yesterday though, that quest came to an end.

The let’s-make-it-a-big-deal UI screen. Somewhat gratifying, yes.

I was a -little- confused when the shortbow disappeared from my inventory. After a bit of panicked searching, I eventually figured out that it auto-added to my legendary armory, because gen 2 legendaries are account-bound.

Ah well. Okay, then.

Is it weird that I would have liked to have a tangible virtual icon to play around with for a moment, before I selected the Add to Legendary Armory option? Simply because the whole process of legendary making is so involved, it ought to result in a simulated object?

The overly smart “let me shortcut that process for you” caught me off-guard for a bit.

Regardless, all my shortbow wielding characters now have a black, red and gold tiger bow that can swap stats at will. So that’s nice.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have this mental post-it note that I might want to bring the ranger out again to make my beginner way through PvP or WvW roaming.

A little more front-and-center was the thought of getting the hang of the revenant/renegade/herald what-have-you fancy schmancy “new” heavy armor class that I barely understand.

Condi renegade is apparently quite a thing, though it takes a while to ramp up and I don’t know if I’ll ever learn, let alone master, the optimised dps rotation. But taking it for a spin in the open world, and learning each skill slowly, over time? Yeah, maybe. Could be fun. Shiny new shortbow was one of those steps towards that project.

Turns out, it’s a little more involved than that.

I have heavy legendary armor, so gearing up that part was quite easy. The shortbow covered one weapon set. I had an older legendary axe that covered half of the other weapon set. Mace? Er. Nope, no legendary maces here. So I yanked out an ascended one left over from raid drops and committed it to Viper stats for good.

Trinkets though. Urgh. Legendary trinkets are on the to-do list. Digging through the horrible mess that is my banked storage for ascended trinkets is not a project I particularly enjoy. Committing ascended trinket stats is hard. I always worry that I won’t have enough for a particular need if I make too many of one type or another. At present, I have a really weak grasp / overview of all my characters and what they’re equipped with and what they need, and I don’t really feel like sitting down to organize them all.

For now, the shortcut was that I flung some spare celestial stat Ascended trinkets onto the poor chap (still missing half of them) and took it out for a very casual spin.

It’s not bad. Quite fun, actually, even though I’m pretty much only spamming shortbow skills at the moment, having nothing more in my brain capacity to learn the other bits as yet. Those can come later. We all start somewhere.

Runes? Sigils? Nope, still yet to be equipped. Traits? Barely any, enough to flip over into renegade, is about it. I still have to bring him hero pointing for enough points to finish off all the revenant traits.

Long story short, from one goal of “get legendary shortbow,” it’s morphed into three additional goals:

  1. Get enough hero points to get full traits for the renegade
  2. Figure out some kind of solution for the renegade’s trinkets (wait for legendary trinkets? assess my ascended trinket inventory and what I can afford? Use some random stopgap stats that I already own?)
  3. Put runes and sigils on the renegade

Oh, you multi-headed goal hydra, you.

Then again, I’m in the throes of post-legendary “I’m broke and poor now” syndrome.

Legendaries eat up an enormous amount of banked resources. More than 500g of mystic coins? Wiped out. Every last T6 trophy I own? Gone. 500 T5 trophies of each type are also consumed, so even that most populous category is at dangerously low levels.

I broke into the gold bank to buy the components to mystic forge my remaining amalgamated gemstones, so I need to re-top it up to the tune of 110g or so. (I also wiped out 400g of spending money on the Dreamthistle skin collection – something I was waiting for literal years to come back into circulation so that prices lowered.)

All in all, that adds up to one of those over-arcing back-of-the-mind goals of play more GW2 and keep accruing all the things because -everything- needs restocking.

Problem is, where do I even start?

It’s not a new problem. Plenty of GW2 newbies run headlong into this and simply shut down. They can’t process the overwhelming number of things they -could- be doing with their game time, and get caught up in choice paralysis, ending up doing none of them and backing away from the game instead.

Regular GW2 players will keep harping on the fact that learning how to make these decisions is a vital player skill for thriving in GW2’s open smorgasbord of gameplay activities.

It’s not like the developers don’t try to help narrow this down for players from time to time. Sometimes there are festivals, or over-arcing events like world boss tour or added rewards in WvW week and so on. So there’s a pretty big nudge in the direction of current events.

Then the developers had the brainwave of re-cycling Living World episodes (themselves over-arcing events that drew focus at the time of their release) and creating new achievements to point the way to visiting a particular zone for a week. Hence all the “Return To _____” achievements lately.

Oh, how nice, a guide list for things you might want to do in the Sandswept Isles.

In order to ensure that people who aren’t logged in for a period of time don’t miss out, they leave the Return to achievement tabs available for all time, so that any returning players can get caught up on them later, at leisure. (Though some group stuff might be a little more difficult to accomplish, the long tail of trailing players means a certain level of activity is still likely in the older zones.)

At what point though, I wonder, does this list start to look like the Dailies tab?

That’s getting to be quite a LONG bulleted list. And long bulleted lists veer towards scary and overwhelming territory.

Sure, you could just pick one tab at random to complete and ignore all the others till done, and get through all of them in a sequential fashion that way. It’s doable. It’s decision-making. Of a sort. Certainly has focus and direction. May not be -optimal- though.

Min-maxers might want to do a bit more strategizing. Look at all the stuff they have yet to complete. Get a bigger picture. Try to organize like goals together and do them all at once. Layer overlapping goals so that everything that needs to be done in one zone gets done, before moving on to the next, and so on. That sort of thing.

The part that has finally broken MY mind, somewhat, is the onset of the Festival of the Four Winds.

Oh look, here’s a festival ON TOP of your Return To content, as well as your dailies, if you are so inclined.

You know, as a vet, I’ve already finished the three tabs above this one, so I don’t have to worry about it. One wonders how the new players deal.

The festival lasts 21 days, so yeah, there’s plenty of time. The annual stuff is easily done in a couple of days. Forever in the back of my mind though, for the next three weeks, is going to be some FOMO that if I’m not farming champion bags in Boss Blitz, I’m losing out. Or at least, incurring some serious opportunity cost. *sighs*

That opportunity cost is likely going to have to be incurred, because I have a serious amount of leftover Return To achievement tabs I want to get cracking on.

The most onerous part of each tab has been the story episodes.

I mean, I could replay them all in a supremely focused fashion by taking my main through each required story instance, but that would mean zero rewards beyond getting an achievement ticked and getting it done as fast as humanly possible.

I thought it might be nice to take a new character through the story, in a sort of story marathon to experience the story uninterrupted by months and years of development time in between updates, and earn rewards and unlock story chapters and stuff at the same time.

Thing is, I vastly underestimated just how lengthy and meandering these story instances have been.

My enthusiasm for re-experiencing the story started to dry up as the NPCs talked at each other for 5 minutes or longer each instance, before progressing on to the next scripted step, that produced even more talking, until maybe there would be a quick fight (utterly destroyed by a power-creeped spin-to-win reaper shroud) and then even more talking. Oh, and a gimmick fight or two which takes FOREVER in contrast to slowly solo mechanics, in contrast with the reaper’s overpowered AoE.

When you start playing songs in Youtube in the other window and hoping the scripted NPCs will start moving, you know you’ve quite lost it with any pretense of keeping up with the story.

It doesn’t help that there have always been issues with GW2 storylines.

Some of it seems to be grand plans derailed by having four different teams take on conveying different parts of the story. Some of it seems to be horrible characterization as produced by writing committee. Some of it seems to be shoehorned-in excuses for stuff that needs to happen plot-wise because we have certain level designs and maps and things we need to hit somehow.

Taimi can be a competent and bratty progeny in most scenes, but then suddenly turn into a wailing freaked out human girl cosplaying as tiny asura because the PLOT needed her to get in trouble and be rescued by the Commander.

We need Marjory to become a greatsword reaper and sell a samurai sword gemstore skin, so let us create a new baby sister (with samurai sword) for Marjory, kill her off abruptly in the next couple of story chapters, then bring her back as a ghost to magically charge up the greatsword skin, which Marjory will now use. Can I have some instant grief on tap for Marjory please? Thanks!

Yo, this egg needs to exit stage left, because the Commander can’t have it until they buy the Heart of Thorns expansion. And we need to hint that the sylvari are all going nuts because Plant and Mind dragon. I know, let’s have Caithe just grab it and go. Cos reasons.

Apparently we wanted to do something with the Nightmare Court, except later it will make no sense at all because it got cut during HoT development. But let’s zoom in for now close onto Caithe’s and Faolain’s relationship and backstory… except the relationship reads like an adult man trying to write two female teenagers calling each other sweet nothings… and one of the females acts like the world’s most gaslighty, illogically manipulative villainess, ordering people around and making demands of everyone. So… why exactly was Caithe in love with this person again? And so willing to do as she asked? Now that’s a mystery that could have used some storytelling… which we never get answered.

Eventually, I got whacked with a revelation.

GW2’s story suffers the same problem as its dailies as its achievements.

It’s doing too much. It’s carrying too much content. A multi-headed hydra of tangled plot threads.

No wonder players are overwhelmed. It lacks straightforward simplicity.

Nor do things tie together very well. It’s just a random assortment of stuff that happens. Braham has the world’s largest series of young person mood swings until he finally mutates into… well. something else.

Let’s make a charr warrior enact a Foefire Cleansing ritual with no prior research on exactly how this might work, and with all the expertise of a group of kids leaning over an Ouija board, so he can randomly generate a portal to the Mists and disappear inside to become a revenant, because marketing wants him in shiny black revenant heavy armor.

In the meantime, Rytlock can also pull double duty unseen in the background and release the Big Bad of our new expansion. because you know, we need a villain other than Elder Dragons, and gods might conceivably oppose Elder Dragons, and which god can we recruit for the Plot? Ah yes, someone who conveniently likes fighting, war, and fire, so he and his faction will look pretty cool. Because we don’t like any explanations at all, until we can retcon everything properly once the expansion is finally done, Rytlock will refuse to answer any questions about his experience in the Mists until we’re done figuring out what happened to him exactly.

Yea, well. K, whatever.

I’ve given up hoping it’ll make sense one day.

I’ll have way better luck just organizing my story to-dos for the sake of the chievos.

Which I did. In one night. Because I was sick of going through story mission after mission, seemingly without end.

Not knowing the full scope of it made it hard to grasp when it would ever be done.

This is much better. The stuff in bold are the missions that actually tick off the achievements for the Return To tabs.

I could see at a glance that I actually just have 6 episode chunks to go. One can probably plow through each chunk in 1-2 days. So suddenly from never-ending labor, the task scope becomes 12 days of effort, at max. Probably shorter.

I could also prioritize these chunks in a different order from sequential narrative order.

Living Story Season 2 has smaller number of story missions (though they tend to be very LENGTHY ones) and are almost done, so I could finish those off.

Living Story Season 3 is annoying because there’s a lot of story missions and only the first and last tend to count. I could put it off, or give up and just shortcut the process with my main. We’ll think about it.

Living Story Season 4 episode 2 is the current week’s episode, so it makes sense to do that first, once LS2 is done, so that I can get cranking on the current events and benefit from group interest while it’s there – like group bounties and so on.

We’ll get the story stuff done first, then clean up on the other achievements, and only then maybe we’ll have mental space for taking on and organizing the legendary trinket long-term project goals.

So it goes.

Guild Wars 2 drowns you in stuff you -could- be doing, if you wanted to.

And it’s on you to figure out if you want to, and where to even get started.

Could it be better? Possibly.

Are you going to wait until someone else makes it better for you? You’ll probably be waiting quite a while.

If you want it now, it’s on you to figure out how.

GW2: Return To …

I stopped habitually playing Guild Wars 2 some time late last year in November.

I’d reached a point where I was no longer just feeling disappointed and dead inside (with the company, with the community, with the gameplay) and had crossed over into a burnout state of “Why am I still clinging on and attempting to accrue or maintain stuff – resources, social networks, etc. in a game potentially nearing the end of its effective lifespan? And feeling terrible about it, to boot.”

(Effective lifespan in this case meaning that the game might still very well technically live on for another decade or more, but a) the amount of effort the company puts in is not the same, aka more maintenance mode, and b) personal interest in continuing with the game for another decade has taken an interest nosedive to near zero.)

Walking away and resetting was a necessary thing.

In the intervening time, a number of things happened. Colin Johanson found his way back to ArenaNet. They actually picked up the communication somewhat. The End of Dragons expansion was announced. The Legendary Armory actually became reality. The Twisted Marionette showed up. Living Story episodes were being given away free to any who logged in during a particular week for the “Return to _____” mini-event weeks. There was a short beta test for a few of the elite specializations of the next expansion.

It’s not at the level of hype. It’s probably not even at the level of hope. But it certainly registers on the positive side of the scale, rather than the negative.

I poked my head back in during the Twisted Marionette, to discover that I did still enjoy the character animations (especially harvesting – an activity that has been driven into non-profitability by rampant teleporting bots underneath the map, fml) and felt neutral to positively nostalgic about pop-in, pop-out public map metas.

I’d intended to leave things as is and maybe check things out again with the launch of the new expansion – something I wasn’t 100% sure I would buy immediately yet – but somehow, some time mid-August, I’d temporarily dried up on other game goals and my brain began chanting “Chuka and Champawat, Chuka and Champawat” as a potential medium to long term project.

This, for people not in the know, is a legendary Longbow themed around tigers.

It’s been sitting in the back of my mind as one of those legendaries I’d like to have, if I ever got in the mood to make another.

It was tempting to use that medium to long term project as an excuse to look back into Guild Wars 2 and putter around with its various activities, earning stuff towards a legendary, while evaluating how I felt about the old game in 2021. Just revisit “things I’d vaguely wanted to do” but never had the free time for, and before the game shut down on me one day, with the positive motivator of itty bitty progress steps.

Chuka and Champawat is a generation 2 legendary, meaning that it dates to the Heart of Thorns era and is, shall we say, a little more -involved– to craft than a gen 1 legendary.

Coincidentally, someone posted the full Chuka and Champawat crafting list on Reddit today:

Well, yeah, it’s fully expanded and thus a -little- exaggerated.

If I used that list, I would cry and not even get started.

As mentioned in the comments of Naithin’s Extracting Value Fr- SQUIRREL! post, when I get into one of these extended project moods, I break out the spreadsheets. Usually Excel, but I was curious about Notion and decided to give it a try.

The act of creating a list for oneself helps to clarify in one’s own mind what is still needed, and how one is going to get it. There’s plenty of wiki referencing and self-brainstorming as to potential alternatives and what costs the least or is the least painful.

The trick is, as I mentioned in one Reddit advice post or another, is to revise one’s mindset.

Legendaries are not built in days, and probably not weeks (unless you’re rich, or willing to swipe some credit cards.) One has to treat each step of a legendary as potentially a whole quest chain in itself, which may take days to complete.

What one can do, however, instead of doing each one sequentially, is to overlap related items or time gated items, so that progress is made daily on multiple fronts. The only way to know which these are, is to really look at the whole list and know what’s there to be done.

One simple example is mystic clovers and trophies. The act of gaining mystic clovers (if you’re going to mystic forge them) is likely to net you some T6 trophies. So mystic clovers first, before thinking about how many trophies you need.

Trophies themselves (claws, fangs, bloods, totems, scales, etc.) are all related items. They expand out into a scary sizeable list, but they’re all obtained in similar ways. You can patiently grind particular mobs for them (something that may take multiple hours across days). You can buy them outright with gold from the TP, or you potentially pick up cheaper lower tier trophies and mystic forge them up to higher tiers. You can grind certain living world currencies to buy chests and bundles that -may- pop the trophies needed. You can just play the game and wait for them to drop in the normal course of play. Some methods are faster, some are slower. Some are cheaper and some will segue into the secondary goal of “I need so much gold. How do I get gold?”

See, mini-secondary goals were basically what I was looking for, as a potentially returning player.

Guild Wars 2, as a horizontal progression game, is FILLED with way too many things one could be doing at any turn. A little bit of help focusing and a direction to follow is appreciated when one is lost and overwhelmed.

The same applies to those “Return To ______” area events. Easy short term goals. Harvest 30 wood from some nodes in a zone is a great micro-goal. In so doing, it gets you into said zone. Once you’re there, you’re bound to get distracted by some dynamic event that pops up around you. (And it’s another micro-goal too, so yay.)

Slowly, steadily, that’s how I ended up back into a semi-regular routine of tapas GW2.

Oh, I need Heart of Thorns currencies for this part of the legendary. Cue the next couple of days revisiting the Heart of Thorns maps doing pre-meta events that I hadn’t touched in forever.

I’d overlaid another “might want to do” goal on top of that, which was wander around and learn how to play a new elite spec (reaper) in a low stress environment.

Yes, solo play in HoT zones is low stress for me. Group play trying to remember ideal rotations and reach peak dps, on the other hand, spikes my blood pressure.

Said character had never been in the Heart of Thorns maps, so map completion was also another potential chase goal.

Then, of course, since you’re already doing the pre-meta events, surely you’re not wandering off when the ACTUAL map meta starts, right?

Chuka and Champawat is one of those rare legendaries that is well known for its nifty nod to storytelling in its collection steps that build up to gaining the precursor Tigris, shown in the image above. A darker, not so shiny version of its red-and-gold legendary.

There are some man-slaying tigers you hunt down (the aforementioned Chuka and Champawat) and a developing story where you discover the subsequent consequences of that action. It’s involved, and it takes you around plenty of locations in Tyria visiting less known areas and dynamic events.

(Though if I never again have to rescue a bunch of fern hounds for a pair of lovebird sylvari, it won’t be too soon. No one ever does the event, and it needs to be done before the NPC deigns to talk to you, and you visit her THREE times to progress the collection steps.)

Some jumping puzzles also get visited as part of those collection steps. Ditto some world bosses. Some map metas.

Heck, I even found myself visiting fractals. *shudders* Group play, as I mentioned, is something I’ve been presently loathe to deal with. Conveniently though, scourge has been buffed with new torment, and I was always curious whether I could solo certain easy Tier 1 fractals. Turns out, yes, all the fractals the Chuka and Champawat collection requires were indeed, eventually, soloable, with a little patience and some experimental death. (Cliffside, ugh.)

After all, repeated experimental death when you’re alone is easy and low stress. It’s dying in a group that’s embarrassing and unpleasant and anxiety-laden.

Slowly, steadily, I started to remember the positive things I liked about GW2.

The freedom to wander across various landscapes, leaping and bouncing and swooping and helicoptering with different mounts. The meditative harvesting of node after node and killing various fauna along the way. Being able to turn and jump freely into a nearby dynamic event that just popped up and seeing a collective of other players (from a few newbies to a zerg for the popular maps) show up as well.

Checking the time and deciding to attend some map meta or world boss or another, sliding into the map with nary a stopping point by jumping into some LFG squad and joining said map instance. Jumping right out again, or just stopping in a corner for a while when one needs to go AFK or attend to something else for a bit.

For a day, I even started wistfully missing the camaraderie of regular raids, the cadence of cycling skills on a mob with somewhat more hitpoints that can withstand the onslaught, the nostalgic sense of friends and compatriots and good times long past and “I wonder where they all are now.”

It wasn’t all rainbows and roses, of course.

There was the time I joined some Path of Fire bounty or another and the LAG that hit was so intense I had flashbacks of every stress-laden incident where my network would go on the fritz and disconnect – right in the middle of scheduled raids. A reprise of group obligations, helpless guilt and frustration at these worthless servers and this hopelessly inept company that one has zero expectations that they will ever get their act together, all compressed into a hot minute of bitterness and anger.

That certainly killed part of the nostalgia towards considering scheduled group content. It’s not fun if things aren’t reliable and don’t work well.

Strike missions were a bit of a mixed bag. I tried three easy ones, just to see if I still had it, after all this time, or if I was hopelessly behind. I knew my dragonhunter build was, for sure, not updated since forever. Performance wasn’t horrible – 2nd-4th in dps, aka not the worst of the lot. Things can only get better if I decided to spruce things up; yet at least one can still sneak into these things and not look 100% awful. I didn’t feel terrible after the strike, which is good, but I didn’t feel anything good either. Just felt… mostly nothing. I suppose developing any positive feelings about it is a longer term project for another day, if ever.

Then we had this week’s Return to Daybreak, where we’re revisiting the Domain of Istan.

And lo and behold, there are old Daybreak bounties that are simply not registering at all, even though one has killed them a dozen times now. Apparently, this bug has been there since the Domain of Istan was first introduced.

*sighs* Color me unsurprised. I mean, this is the company that duplicated their “Committed” title for two instances – the recent 9th birthday and an existing raid achievement – and only figured it out when players actually hit the 9th birthday on their characters this month. Leave an old bug forever unfixed? Very much par for the course for ArenaNet. Then call attention to it by having a Return to ____ event and -then- find out that it’s broken? Peak ArenaNet, no?

What’s the point of enjoying a mini-game of fill in the achievement checklists… when the checklists itself won’t check? And no one realizes until the players report issues?

Times like this, one starts to reconsider the wisdom of investing -too- much time and effort into a particular game.

Lowered to no expectations mean you can never be disappointed.

For the moment, while it still pleases you, go ahead and strive to make Chuka and Champawat, because it’s something you’ve decided you’d like to do. For now.

When it stops being fun, then I hope you figure it out soon and know how to stop as well.

GW2: Turning Back The Clock

Since Bhagpuss and Azuriel have both offered their hot takes on the return of the Twisted Marionette in GW2, I felt like it was finally time this weekend to get off my reluctant-to-interact-with-people arse (the pandemic has only been feeding the grouchy misanthropy) and head back into the multiplayer *shudder* fray. Even if I feel completely done with MMOs as a concept.

Oddly enough, the biggest revelation of the first night was a deeply personal, deeply weird one.

Harvesting wood feels so much better and smoother in GW2 than in Valheim!

It’s ludicrous, I know. But it’s true. Glide up on a mount, hit F and seamlessly transit into a wood-chopping animation that hits three times, wood harvested, mount up and zip to the next node. Wow, the feels. Of all the things, I f–king missed harvesting in GW2?!

But what was I even doing harvesting elder wood, stacks of which were probably bleeding out of my banks and bags and the trading post?

The finger of blame points squarely to the pretty darned good idea that ArenaNet had (as Bhagpuss mentioned, roughly a month ago in Try Anything Twice) to offer a new set of achievements to cajole players back to replaying super-old content.

A returning player to GW2, like me, already overwhelmed by looking at the plentiful and unrecognizable junk in their bags, will grasp on to any offer of focus and direction. It so happened that the Return To Bitterfrost Frontier week was running. This is good! Bitterfrost is a small, compact map. Let’s narrow down focus and just collect these laundry list of achievements while trying to remember what all these buttons do.

No joke, while skills are still super comfortable on my main, I stared at the buttons when I mounted and couldn’t recognize any of them. Especially the green thing. It’s probably the newest, which I must have blanked out some time ago.

Foraging 30 things, mining 30 things, and woodchopping 30 things are perfect goals for this state of confusion.

Adding on some dynamic events, a story mission or three (my god, the voice acting really talks too much in the earlier episodes) and even a diving goggles plunge helped to recapture some of the essence of GW2 gameplay.

Then it was time for the Marionette.

I went for the public one, because the word on the street is that the public one is easier than the private one.

I think this is one of those strokes of accidental genius that ArenaNet are so good at stumbling into unknowingly.

The public one has a map cap of 75 players, allowing for an extra player or more per platform, to basically paper over potential mistakes made by players; whereas the private squad one caps at 50 players, meaning the two per platform better know what they’re doing, or else…

The “public” one only pops up every two hours, on the even hour, in a super sekrit location that presumably more aware players know to access; the “private” one is advertised by squad commanders in LFG and the popup that you can only enter in a private squad is there 24/7 for the supremely casual to walk into and think “oh, I need to join a squad to enter.”

The former is probably intentional and is great. Casual play should be a little more forgiving to be enjoyable. Let those who like organized group content challenge themselves as desired.

The latter is probably not intentional and is doubtlessly producing hilarity (because the reaction to community toxicity is to laugh despairingly or cry, and I’m done lamenting) when people with distinctly different values collide with each other. But in the sense that it’s pushing people who don’t want to bother with such organized drama into cramming the public instance to get their achievements done on the week the Marionette sticks around… it’s pretty good. The success rate of the public instance goes up. More people want to join. It’s a net positive effect. Unity, not division.

Yes, unity does mean that the occasional failure of a few people means the failure of all. I feel like we had this debate seven years ago already. The original GW2 way meant teaching, relentlessly. Somewhere around Heart of Thorns, a lot more people started just giving up on this and haranguing other players for being ‘bad’ instead. Somehow, that strategy doesn’t seem to have improved players through the years either.

I suppose the most realist strategy is that you accept reality – yep, there are anti-vaxxers that are going to spread the virus, yep, there are players who are not going to play up to your standards – and live with it, taking precautions for one’s health and sanity as necessary. This could mean not playing the game at all so as not to interact with the community, playing the game in your own private groups that meet your standards, mixing with the general community and accepting that occasional bad things will happen and/or educating your heart out or whatever.

And yes, sighs, you can complain about it. Even if I’m tired of reading the same things over and over. (Guess I should just not read them.)

So far, the Twisted Marionette hasn’t been too terrible.

With some amusement, my 2014 phase 2 AoE guide summary still seems to be relevant. Or at least I looked it up in a panic during the 5 minute wait time, having realized I didn’t remember a thing and it would probably be good to at least know where to stand safely. (This is one of the primary reasons to blog. To refresh your own damn memory.)

First go, went lane 4, success on my platform, some other platform effed it up, lane 4 failed, another lane covered for it and Marionette was won regardless.

Second go, went lane 4, some other lane effed up (lane 2), turning lane 4 into effectively lane 3, success on our lane, the other lanes covered for lane 2, and Marionette was won regardless.

Third go, went lane 4, my platform effed up but good (I regret switching out my sword of wisdom for a less damaging hammer for cc, and I panicked when the other two guys went down early and left my already established since 2014 safe spot while waffling over whether I should try to rez or solo and god, what is this pulsing damage circle suddenly around me, do I run? and ran straight into a bright orange circle I should not have run into. 10% hp left on the boss. Bet a solo would have been possible if I had been a little less rusty), another lane covered for it, and Marionette was won regardless.

Fourth go, went lane 1, having realized that I was simply not getting stomp achievements done by taking on harder lanes, and lane 4 or 5 effed it up, another lane covered for it, and Marionette was won regardless.

Got greedy on the fourth go, having learned from map chat that you could rush into another Marionette instance if you completed before :20 on the hour, and hurtled into another instance for my first Marionette failure. They were on lane 2 or 3 and struggling. Didn’t manage to go in yet from field sickness and the whole thing broke down by lane 5. Moral of the story: zone in on time.

Fifth go, went lane 1, cleared lane 1, lane 3 effed up, lane 4 covered, lane 5 blew up on the lane 4 boss, and the whole thing basically ran out of time due to plunging player morale letting in lots of twisted clockwork to run the timer down.

Sixth go, went lane 1, cleared lane 1, lane 4 effed up, lane 5 effed up, ending up doing lane 4 boss again on lane 1 (oh cone confusion, how do I love thee, let me count the ways; panicked a little less when that pulsing glowy weird shit kept following me – wtf is that, why do I not recall that from 2014, maybe I was just not as observant back in 2014? – remembered I had litany of wrath for the really clutch moment of oh-god-I-stepped-out-too-far-and-now-I-have-confusion-on-fast-attacking-scepter, got it done), lane 2 covered lane 5 boss, and Marionette was won regardless.

Seventh go, went lane 1, cleared lane 1, no lanes effed up, Marionette was won, flawless victory.

Eight go, changed to Scourge for a lark. Went lane 1, cleared lane 1, realized I was mostly pushing random buttons trying to remember how to play Scourge. Epidemic did lots of sidelong AoE, but not as focused as a direct damage greatsword spin on top of menders rushing for the gate. Seemed to be more leakage in that respect. Lane 4 effed up, so lane 1 got to cover the carried over lane 5 as usual. That seemed more not so fun as scourge, or just zero muscle memory in remembering how to actually target one mob to focus on while resisting the urge to spam fear and scatter mobs. Still, those phase 1 champions and those humongous hp pools are a great target dummy for remembering how to play various classes. Regardless, Marionette was won.

Also, stacking two lanes per fight means all achievements but the defeat Marionette one are now cleared. 3 more wins to go, should be doable casually by tomorrow, unless all the players suffer sudden brain trauma and forget how to deal with the boss in a day.

7 successes, 2 failures (1 of those success/failures was during the fourth go simultaneously). Seems to be an acceptable ratio. It could only go up by the second week as players learn, but for whatever reason, one week is all we get? Strange decision. Even the Living Story events were staggered over two weeks.

Only the third and fifth goes had a loudmouth bitching their heart out about bad players. Not something I really enjoy subjecting myself to, on a long term basis, but for a short period of time, for the sake of nostalgia, eh, it can be ignored.

Since the self-declared goal is to try and get the Marionette achievements for the heck of it, it means popping in every two hours to see how the different timezones do.

Ironically, I find myself somewhat nostalgically enjoying the clock watching.

Goodness, way back in 2013, it was Tequatl and camping all timezones hoping for a kill.

Obviously, this is not at all sustainable. It’s a one weekend let’s-pretend-we’re-young-again affair.

It would be a little less insane if spread out over two weeks, but what the hell, we’re all in on nostalgia, if only for a little while.

Side Thought:

You know, it strikes me that if GW2 was really looking for a unique selling point, these large map battles might be the way to go. As far as I know, map metas are distinctly unique to GW2 – other MMO players can feel free to correct me, are there other MMOs where every player on the map is pulled to specific spots, given objectives to achieve, then channeled into fighting a multi-phase boss or series of bosses?

By definition, this can only be done in a game where you have massive numbers of players running around, thus necessitating MMO, rather than simple multiplayer lobbies like Monster Hunter World or whatever.

Granted, I’m not sure about the marketing appeal. Herding 75 cats may sound like a lot more work than channeling 5 people towards a goal. 75 random, faceless people may as well be slightly more intelligent bots (or less, if you’re really unlucky.)

But then, the spectacle of a zerg doing something like Dragon’s Stand… well, it’s definitely a unique experience.

Hilariously Objectionable Content

Imagine my surprise this afternoon when I tried to pop over to Bhagpuss’ blog on my iPad, and found this message:


Bhagpuss’ site? You must be kidding me.

(To give it some context, our nanny state occasionally decides that certain websites are of questionable moral fibre and symbolically – since they acknowledge they can’t exactly stop the entire ‘Net in its tracks – blocks them, courtesy of MDA – the Media Development Authority.

This irregular censorship has led to some hilarity where the computer games industry is concerned. Mass Effect was briefly banned for a cutscene involving potential lesbian sex – aka two ladies on top of each other with no nudity, while other games cheerfully snuck right by. The Secret World, for example, shows the exact same thing in the introduction, but I guess no one told MDA.

The entire debacle led to considerable global ridicule – not that they weren’t doing a great job by themselves with this “rap”…

…and presumably there must have been some behind-the-scenes squabbling as the sheer weight and economic power of the video games industry – did your country want money/investment/educational opportunities or not – came down on some paper and pencil pushers.

The long and short of it was some hemming and hawwing as the ban was withdrawn, sparing the ministry from the wrath of countless EA fans, and a rating system put in place where they could safely shovel the fuzzy ground of items they couldn’t ban outright into M18 territory.)

But back to the topic of today… BHAGPUSS? His blog? Blocked? Wtf? What kind of music did he post… or what…? Why?

It wasn’t actually a full block. I swapped over to the Feedly app and it brought up his site and his recent posts.

Turns out the PC browser shows his blog just fine as well.

It’s just something ridiculously weird going on with the iPad and the ISP, I presume.

But I found it ridiculously funny to guess at what triggered some automatic robot AI somewhere to object strenuously to his latest posts.

Let’s see.

Last posted 7h ago. An article regarding Lunar New Year in GW2, where you open red packet envelopes and get “cash money up front” and “it’s definitely not gambling.”

Yep. Definitely a scam all right.

Time to protect all those vulnerable people out there from this dastardly ploy against the public interest.

Just you wait, I’m a’ gonna get my own blog blocked at this rate.

Wonder how long it’ll take for our glorious bureaucracy to figure it out.

LitRPG: Where the Fictional Meets MMORPG

Now here’s an odd specialty sub-genre of fiction that I couldn’t have conceived of in my wildest dreams.

I encountered the term while browsing through the Solo Roleplaying reddit – another niche gameplaying style where the goal is to entertain oneself by solo playing a tabletop RPG. Some narrate events to themselves, some simply daydream, others pen down some manner of written record to help their memory along. Often, this may include some game system terms in a sidebar or separate paragraph, to demonstrate where the game mechanics stepped in to take some authorial control and surprise the solo game player. (Without this game emulation, it’s basically just writing a story.)

Someone mentioned that such written records resembled “LitRPG.”

Now that’s a strange term I haven’t heard before. What newfangled creation hath this corner of the young internet wrought?

Google to the rescue.

Wikipedia defines it as:

LitRPG, short for Literary Role Playing Game, is a literary genre combining the conventions of computer RPGs with science-fiction and fantasy novels… The proponents of the term state that in LitRPG, games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the story, and visible RPG statistics (for example strength, intelligence, damage) are a significant part of the reading experience.

Wikipedia on LitRPG

The top search on Google (or at least my version of what Google deems is most relevant for me) is a The Verge article on LitRPG. The article author, Paul Miller, is fairly critical on the literary aspects of the books (ie. extremely lacking) but positive on the primary concept, that of a real person becoming lost in and learning to live in an MMO world, stat blocks and all.

A more positively biased summation of LitRPG comes from the page of (naturally) a LitRPG author.

I’m excited by the potential of LitRPG as a medium for dissecting our fascination with games and virtual worlds. Through our gamer and NPC characters, we can explore the relationships between real lives and virtual lives, and gain a better understanding of our own psychology around the human-technology interface. Why do we want to lose ourselves in digital fantasies? How are we motivated by quests and level-ups? What is it about virtual relationships that are so satisfying (or not)? By trying to answer these and many other questions through LitRPG, we can strive to understand the actions and motivations of the hundreds of millions of people who now call themselves “gamer”.

Edwin McRae, “What is LitRPG”

Some informational dumpster-diving through years-old Reddit threads later, I had a couple examples of what titles were generally considered “LitRPG.” Most looked like self-published work going for bargain bin prices on Amazon.

Being unwilling to pay sight unseen for dubious quality products and mostly just curious as heck, I identified two generally-recognized-as-not-horrible examples that were available for the glorious price of free.

Excellent. Free is good. Enough to figure out if I might like it or not.

The Wandering Inn appears to be a serialized web story in the manner of Worm. The protagonist, Erin Solstice, is a modern human suddenly teleported into a Breath of the Wild-esque fantasy world where a whole bunch of new game-like rules (e.g. sentient monster races, skill leveling) are as universal as breathing.

Faced with barely any relevant survival skills, her best bet is to take refuge in a mysterious inn and wind up in a Recettear-like situation where one becomes a fantasy innkeeper.

AlterWorld: Play to Live. A LitRPG Series (Book 1) by D. Rus. This Russian author is credited with mostly kindling (haha, pun, see what I did there) the budding genre. In this fantasy version of Earth, it has become possible for people to get essentially ‘sucked into’ a fully immersive MMO universe, becoming fully digitized where the physical body can be conveniently discarded with no ill effects to the digital self. This is known as “perma mode” (as opposed to “perma death,” I guess.)

The protagonist, Max, on learning he has a plot-convenient terminal illness hatches his grand plan to purposefully trigger “perma mode” and become Laith, a High Elf Necromancer in the MMO AlterWorld (because you know, opposite Drizzt is a thing and players always gotta buck the racial/class norms). There are some distinct stilted phrases and terminology scattered throughout, presumably due to the author’s Russian background.

The later books apparently get much worse in quality as some distasteful themes make themselves known in the author’s writing, but if one wants to study the genre, it makes sense to at least have a look at the original genre-starter. Free, after all. No plans on paying for more.

Having gotten a couple chapters into both titles, I have to say… I don’t know… The whole thing feels weird. Creepy weird. Yet strangely compelling, in a fanfiction train wreck sort of way.

On one hand, the serialized version of the web stories feels like a harmless fanfiction prose version of various game-inspired webcomics I love to peruse and follow along – things like WTF Comics (a distinctly Everquest flavored adventure campaign that has sadly petered off in the past few years, but the existing content is top notch), LFG Comic (a more half-original, half-WoW flavored take on things), and so on.

Granted, the good web comics become renowned because their -comic- qualities (as in, the art, the layouts, etc.) are quite high quality. It seems fewer of the present LitRPG cohort meet good prose thresholds, which makes their “literary” claim to fame a trifle presumptive, or at least, somewhat preliminary.

Expect fanfiction quality levels of English – some pretty good, others downright awful, the odd typo or grammatical error here and there. Editorial cleanup passes are unlikely.

That said, the authors plainly have some ideas and are keen to convey them, and are more or less understandable, so it is possible to be curious about the fates of these characters and the precarious situations they find themselves in.

What I do find weird is the thematic blend of fantasy and reality.

I’ve always known that I don’t play MMO games like a good many other players do, where they put themselves or an idealized version of themselves into their avatars, which then play the game.

I’ve never purposefully made a character that looked like myself and then put real world “me” into the game. LitRPG, conversely, seems to be full of people who do exactly that. Total immersion to them means throwing themselves bodily into the game world.

Me, I play MMO games from a GM’s or author’s perspective. I separate myself, splintering into various shards, containing multitudes. Some have aspects of me, some have aspects of others, blended up into a unique formula which makes them distinct. Each of these shards is a character, with their own personalities and backstory. They need a name.

Once named, they are not me. They are them.

Total immersion to me means that these characters can exist fully in these new worlds and settings as totally lore appropriate beings – there is never the awkward juxtaposition of trying to resolve modern-day issues and sensibilities (a carry over from a player brain that is unable to sever their own personality from their avatar) in a non-modern-day fantasy setting.

LitRPG, to me, seems to be written by a generation of people who have less background in books per se, but whose growing-up experience has been the odd physical and virtual blend of always being on the internet, always having social media around, always playing some form of video game. Little wonder that their real world selves merge with their digital selves, and this craving need to resolve the paradox.

That would be the positive form of LitRPG. A far worse form would be the pretender that has poor grounding in either actual game or this blended dilemma, but tries to throw in made-up game jargon anyway. At which point, I think the problem becomes clear. Any fiction requires a consistent world. If your construct of your fictional world is created poorly, through lack of understanding of game systems, then the inconsistency shines through and grates with every paragraph.

Generally, I lack the confidence that a fanfiction style author has the capacity to formulate a consistent fictional game world for their story. Not only are there authorial responsibilities, they are now taking on game designer responsibilities for the game jargon and skill/systems interaction. That’s a pretty big ask.

A solo RP written report doesn’t have that problem, because the game system & rules come from established texts from other authors.

A Let’s Play of an actual -real- game, whom I heavily enjoy reading the well-written ones, has the same grounding because the game system & rules exist in reality. The authorial responsibility there is then just to write well and be entertaining, and explain the systems text & rules if required.

Reading any LitRPG leaves me feeling that I’m on shaky ground. I’m not sure if the rules are consistent, or if they are going to bend to suit the fiction.

Perhaps my concern is wrong, and there are indeed authors who can handle both at once. Constructing a game world full of solid rules design, as well as plot a story that contains both conflict and compelling characters. But it seems there very well might be some tradeoffs here and there.

In any case, the final oddity is that I guess I find the obsession over game text curious. I tend to skim read over most system messages.

This placing of game text on a hallowed pedestal of a full paragraph is a strange convention of LitRPG. It reminds me of the way 4x strategy gamers scrutinize every last word of a skill, or resource, or building and basically min-max and optimize their way through a game mathematically.

Me, I admit to doing no such thing, unless forced by circumstance to. I’ll just pick stuff that sounds good, stack it all if possible, and read it only if I must. Game text is not meant for word-by-word parsing, if you ask me. It’s like an informational system message. Could be spammed. Picking up the big picture seems sufficient.

Still, LitRPG adds up to being an odd curious genre. I suppose there’s no harm following along further with the free stories, if one has time, if only just to find out what happens next.