post up about the change of pace that comes with GW2's latest Living Story update. Ravious agrees, as do I. If only we could believe it comes from a deliberate revision of policy rather than just a felicitous gift from the holiday season.
The Living Story itself, or its "first season" at least, now has an end date. It's all laid out in this official memo. There are four more releases to come, the next not arriving until January 21st. Assuming the traditional two-week drop rate that puts the "epic finale" on March 4th 2014, meaning the inaugural story-arc that began so limply with a few dazed refugees stumbling through the Shiverpeak snows will have occupied our time for well over a year.
Focusing on Scarlet's many flaws risks letting ANet off the hook for the more serious, structural problems that have sometimes tended to make playing GW2 this year an enervating activity. It's a feeling that surely underpins our sense of relief as we come into Wintersday with the prospect of six whole weeks to get stuff done before it all kicks off once more.
Much has been made of the lack of effective tools for carrying a story in the first place. The decision not just to make a questless MMO but to make the very fact that it has no quests one of its unique selling points looks ill-advised when only a few months after launch you choose to re-focus your entire game around a single, extended narrative.
A heroic effort has been made to use just about every in-game system to share the load - mail, achievements, dynamic events, incidental dialog, personal instances, cut-scenes - you name it, they've tried it. In the end the main thing all that hard work has served to do is emphasize how useful a framework the MMO quest is and why game developers created it in the first place.
Over time the handling of the tools and the way information is disseminated through them has very clearly improved. That and we've become used to to it. It feels rather like driving a beat-up old car, the door handles replaced with string, a tinny transistor radio balanced on the dashboard, the exhaust pipe patched with a Coke can; it's not pretty, it's not always comfortable but it's familiar and it gets you where you need to go.
Whoever does the incidental dialog deserves a bonus, too. Arguably the best part of every Living Story update has been the bit where you hang around before and after the action and listen to the characters bantering with each other.
If you want to know what's going on, some pro-active talking to NPCs on your part is advised, too. I spoke to all the actors in our current drama as they idle on the blasted heath in Kessex Hills and learned a lot. Most of it probably came up already, but in the hurly-burly of chasing achievements and trying to stay alive it's all too easy to miss a few lines of dialog. Luckily I have two accounts so if I think I've missed a key plot point I can take another run at it, but I have to notice I missed it in the first place.
I hadn't really appreciated the degree to which the three Orders, Vigil, Whispers and Priory, were now involved in the battle against Scarlet. I didn't realize Lady Kasmeer was in training as Marjory's assistant (nobility appears to operate under very different rules in Kryta). I certainly hadn't appreciated that when the Asura let Scarlet study at all three Colleges it was because they thought they were studying her.
Ah yes. In the end it all comes back to Scarlet and that is a problem. Having a central villain who elicits a first response of "FFS not her again!" is going to cause difficulties in any narrative form. ANet like to compare the Living Story to a TV series but if your audience's instinctive reaction when your main villain appears on screen is to flip to another channel you're going to struggle to keep them coming back for future episodes.
In any case, I'd be very surprised indeed to find the whole thing wrapped up prettily with all the bows tied. It's been a rag-tag, kick and hope affair thus far and I fully expect to go into next Spring not all that much wiser about what was going on or why it mattered.
All in all, the Living Story Season 1 has had its ups and downs. Bits of it have been fun and the bits that haven't have been easy enough to ignore. Whatever follows it is going to need to do better. TESO launches just a month after the final episode of the Scarlet story arc. WildStar must be getting close to pressing the Go button, too. And there's a WoW expansion coming, most likely before the end of Summer. This year GW2 had things relatively easy. Next year could be tougher.
Competition is supposed to be the friend of both quality and value. Let's hope so.
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