GW2: The Gates of Maguuma – First Impressions

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.

Well, that teaches me to go vista hunting in a sandstorm.
Well, that teaches me to go vista hunting in a sandstorm.

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.

It's times like this I love my Fiery Dragon Sword. Hall of Monuments, whoo!
It’s times like this I love my Fiery Dragon Sword. No dull torches for me. Hall of Monuments heroes unite!

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.

TSW: Quests That Make You Think

Having a good time in The Secret World with the plethora of innovative quests that don’t mind leaving the player stumped or running around in circles perfectly poised on the knife edge between frustration and conviction that the answer is here, somewhere, if only I could figure it out…

So what are these innovations that move TSW’s quests beyond the simple kill-X-whatevers, defeat-alls, click glowie objects, Fed-ex parcels back and forth and escort quests we see in every MMO out there?

All the above still exist in TSW, by the way. It’s just mixed with a good helping of the stuff below, which makes the story and quest path more interesting. So far, I’ve encountered:

(Minor spoilers follow. That is, you may find out that such-and-such type of quest exists, and I may allude to some methods of solution, but no direct answers or walkthroughs. If you want to be completely in the dark before playing the game yourself, then stop reading now.)

1) Pay attention to the scenery (I mean, the world)

It’s such a small thing, but what a world of difference it makes. Quests casually refer to places or things that are near another place and leave you to figure out where to go and where it is.

If you recognize the address of where some shop is, or some other notable landmark in town, you can head directly there feeling good that you know where things are in this world, rather than spend all your time following arrows and waypoints from the minimap radar.

TSW generally follows the LOTRO style of waypointing, where the waypoint chucks you at the ballpark area so that you’re not completely hung out to dry, and then leaves you to go and search the area however you like. More than once, I’ve had to do the casual version of a grid search across the entire highlighted area because the item I’m looking for is not terribly obvious.

Fortunately, they are kind enough to highlight important items in yellow if you get close to it, so that it does not devolve into a frustrating pixel hunt. (If you were masochistic enough, you have the option of turning it off. I wouldn’t dream of it.)

This style of quest encourages you to observe your surroundings more closely and generally pay attention to the world as a world, rather than pretty but unimportant scenic props.

In investigation quests, TSW doesn’t hold your hand at all. The easy-mode waypoints go dark. Hopefully you were paying attention on the earlier kinds of quests.

One memorable quest had me running in and out and around the Kingsmouth Church for a good half hour or so, ready to tear my hair out and taking it out on any nearby zombies that got in my way. I was supposed to find out what song was going to be sung on a particular Sunday, and it was baffling me good and proper. I kept talking to the pastor there, wondering if he had any clues in his dialogue. I kept looking for hymn books lying around on some convenient table. Nothing, nada, zilch.

This view does not contain what I was trying to find.

I was just about ready to start Googling for hints, when by chance, my camera angle shifted and I really -looked- at what was on my screen.

What I exclaimed was not fit to be said in that church.

In retrospect, it was obvious, and it fit. Which is the best kind of adventure game puzzle solution.

2) Follow the Trail of…

Blood (a perennial favorite,) dirt, even metal traps.

Or Illuminati signs. This shows up in the intro tutorial, so you immediately get a sense of the kinda place this is going to be.

Again, it’s a simple thing, but it feels good. It’s like you get to play really simple CSI and follow the red blood splatters until you get somewhere.

For some quests, the trail in question is phased in. For other quests, the trail has always been there, embedded into the scenery you keep running past without a second glance.

(This ain’t completely new. I’ve seen Runescape do it specifically for certain quests/skills that require tracking animal tracks. For all I know, there are other MMOs who do stuff like this for footprints or whatever. But we need to see more of it, because it’s something else to do besides just follow the waypoint dotted track that has no real existence in the world. )

A very neat touch and more advanced spin on this type of quest is the Siren’s Song in the main story quest. Trigger an item, and your view changes, including a waypoint path that you have to follow. Except this waypoint path represents the song you are hearing being sung. The audio also sends atmospheric chills up your spine, in a good way.

Dooo doooo…. La lala la lalala…

3) Find the Safe Path (or ANY path at all)

Sort of a variant on the jumping puzzle, just less vertical and with a touch more lateral thinking. Bunch of scary red lasers, or piles of green radioactive goo or electrocuted water in your way. How are you going to get from here to there?

The same question and challenge also applies to awfully high items that you can’t reach, or things that sit around taunting you with a fence/barrier blocking your way

How the heck do I get in there?

Kind of a more sophisticated version of the thing you do in City of Heroes when you get to the waypoint and can’t find the mission door because it’s either above or under you.

4) Riddles

Obscure wordplay. ‘Nuff said. Pretty fun, but I am a wordy kind of person.

LOTRO also dabbles with these.

5) Triangulate to a Location

Seriously, wow. I was NOT expecting any other MMO than A Tale in the Desert to make me even attempt triangulation (lemme tell you about frog catching in ATITD some other time.)

You get a radar thingummy. It pings more frequently and beeps louder as you get warmer and closer to the desired location. Figure it out.

Ping! Ping ping! Ping…

Fortunately, the location was nearby and I didn’t have to do any coordinate calculations unlike *ahem* a certain other sandy MMO, which was good, cos I hate math.

6) Solve Morse Code


I confess, this one defeated me. I am naturally as far from an auditory learner as you can get. Anything that requires me to pay attention to sounds, memorize them and their rhythms, and replicate them is going to kick my ass.

I gamely tried to pause the visualization and go frame by frame to decode it, but the poor UI controls in the game frustrated me to no end. Nor did looking up a Youtube recording of it help, even though I could rewind and fast forward. I got as far as three letters, garbled up by an extra imaginary dot where there should be nothing, threw up my hands and started Googling for help.

I even tried downloading an automatic Morse Code decoder as suggested by a forums-goer, but was stumped by all the technical audio references and terms in the program, and also discovered my seldom-used mic was definitely not working.

(I was, however, quite impressed as to the ingenuity of the other puzzle solvers. This sort of program use harkens back to my MUD days, where some of us would indulge in ‘cyborging’ – my term for the use of such programs to help a human solve these kinds of quests at a much faster rate than manually puzzling it out. I still know where to go for anagram and cryptogram solvers, fer instance.)

So I eventually cheated via Google-fu and found some kind person who had spilled the answer to this puzzle online.

I don’t feel a speck of guilt for doing this though. It’s up to each player to choose the difficulty level they desire. This is still an MMO, and the ‘multiplayer’ component has to play a part somewhere.

Sure, maybe we’ll get to a point where an expansion is released and no one knows the answer to some new mysterious investigation quest or ARG that just launched. Then I’ll be glad to pool my mental power with that of everyone’s in trying to puzzle it out together.

Ultimately, we are living in the age of an interconnected global mind by courtesy of the internet. It would be foolish not to harness its power.

P.S. For anyone who still has not encountered this amusing Zahada riddle website yet, feel free to enjoy doing stuff similar to (or slightly harder than) what The Secret World is asking of its players right now. You may thank me for wasting a week of your time later.

(Our workplace lost about that much productivity time when we found it and attempted solving it together.)