Monday, December 4, 2017

The GW2 Living Story 4 Review or "Just Die, Already!"

Working in a bookshop as I do, this is an awkward time of year for gaming. Longer hours, disrupted work patterns, not to mention my own preparations for Christmas all make it hard enough to find time to game without gaming companies deciding to release major updates on the same day.

Last week was frustrating. I came home late in the evening, tired, wanting to play but lacking either the hours or the energy to throw myself wholeheartedly into either EQ2's latest expansion Planes of Prophecy or Daybreak, GW2's fourth installment of the Living World storyline.

My frustration was evident in the short post I slapped up on Friday. It wasn't until Sunday that I finally found time to settle down and really dig in to the new content in both games. I was determined to make the most of the opportunity and in the end I managed to play for around eight hours, split roughly evenly between the two.

I thought of combining my impressions of the two very different sessions into a single post but there's more than enough to say about each of them separately. This is the GW2 post and I preface it with the above to set my reactions in some context. There will be spoilers so beware.

Met office amber warning for crystallization.

I was at home and playing when the GW2 update arrived, around tea-time on Tuesday. The EQ2 servers, down in preparation for the expansion, weren't due to come up again for three hours, so I was ready and able to give the fourth installment of The Living Story my full attention.

It began well, with a most impressive "Brandstorm" over the desert city of Amnoon. There was a very brief moment of calm at a farmstead and then all hell broke loose - lightning, screen shake, a road filled with terrified refugees - then action, action, action.

Once the fighting started it pretty much never stopped. ANet's new method with solo instances seems to be to throw every thing at the screen at once and keep on throwing until the player stumbles out the far side and collapses. The forum feedback thread is unusually positive about the chapter as a whole but the main negative criticism focuses on the extended boss battles and the long, tedious fights.

Canach? Rytlock? Where did you guys go?

My Friday post may have inadvertently given the impression that I found the first instance boss - a wyvern - difficult. Not so. Having now finished the whole of the Daybreak story I can confirm that nothing in it is "difficult", not even the final boss fight, which has drawn a lot of flak.

"Difficulty" would suggest a chance of failure. There is no chance that anyone, whatever their skill or gear level, will fail to complete any of these fights. Not, that is, unless they get so bored they quit before the end, which is an entirely possible outcome. Otherwise, providing you have the patience, if all else fails it's possible to death-rush any fight, re-spawning and running back as many times as required.

I was very, very far from needing to do anything of the kind. Playing as a druid, I didn't die once during the entire thing. Other than a single time in the wyvern fight, when I was standing around trying to figure out the mechanics,  I don't think I was even downed. In the final "epic" boss fight my health never went below about 80%.

Scruffy's just warming up. Wait til you see him at full stretch.

That fight, however, took around forty minutes and the instance of which it formed the climax, almost all of which was non-stop fighting, took about an hour and a half. The reason it took so long, other than my druid's low DPS, is that the whole thing is composed of set-piece fights that are either multiple waves of twenty to fifty trash mobs, always including a large number of high hit-point Veterans, or mini-boss Champions with repetitive phases and a shed-load of HP.

Fights that would be fun at maybe two or three minutes and bearable at five are stretched out to ten or fifteen. Even between the set pieces every step of the way involves clearing more trash. It is dull. It's also consistent with the relentless, unavoidable, tedious combat that characterizes Path of Fire in general, so there's that.

As a design ethos, giving every set-piece fight one or two specific mechanics, which then repeat two or three times at set intervals, stinks. Anet have been doing it for a long, long time and it's become utterly predictable.

As soon as we moved from the huge open world events of LS1 to instances that could be packaged and sold to latecomers through the Gem Store it became apparent that the problem would be length. Without these artificially extended borefests the average LS episode would probably last 90 minutes, tops. Padding was needed and padding is what we got.

Geez, that must have been some party.
This time, the whole story took me around five hours in total. Not counting the new map, which I still haven't fully explored. I enjoyed some of it. I would have enjoyed all of it if it had taken half as long. Even then, I wouldn't have believed any of it.

Combat aside, the story is just nonsense. There were a number of "Wait, what?!" moments, when I genuinely had no idea what was happening. The plot was so incoherent it seemed as though there might literally be scenes missing.

The sequence where the player-character, manacled, is knocked unconscious with a single blow is one of those "really?" moments. I suppose in a world where The Commander (that's you) can literally tell an NPC, from personal experience, that death is overrated, there can't be any genuine threat any more. Even so, this was pushing it.

Nothing makes much sense any more, though. If there's an explanation of how Taimi came to be captured, either before or after the fact, then I missed it  - and I talked to everyone.

Don't mind the traumatized teen on the floor there.
So, how have you been?

As for the part where Braham and Rox literally appear out of thin air, talking about an Awakened invasion of core Tyria, I felt I'd missed not just a plot point but an entire Living Story episode. Has this actually been happening? If so, why did no-one tell me? I wish they had. It must have been like one of the old, good, LS episodes.

The voice acting is a little hit or miss in GW2 but usually the main characters are solid. This time Taimi sounded so weirdly unlike herself that I seriously expected a denouement where, when we finally prized her out of her battle-cruiser-grade tin can, we'd find it wasn't her at all.

As far as I can tell that didn't happen, although given the bizarre coda, where everyone stands around chatting instead of rushing the traumatized child to intensive care, she may as well have been a disposable mesmer clone or a clever simulacrum. If she doesn't end up with PTSD then Asuran recuperative powers must be off the scale.

As for the rest, Rytlock and Canach managed one or two half-decent lines but in general the dialog throughout is uninspired. Too many weak one-liners and while I'm used to my own character sounding like an ineffectual afterthought, the addition of an irascible, sarcastic edge isn't helping.

The rewards for plowing through it all? I don't think there were any. Not material rewards, at least. With gear upgrades off the table and all the cosmetics attached to the new map the story instances seem curiously purposeless these days. If it wasn't that a certain degree of progress through the story was required to open the new maps I think I'd start skipping them - let someone else do the hard graft and catch up later on YouTube.

In the end I wouldn't say the story and related instances were terrible. It's just that none of it is very good. It seems ridiculous to say it would have been better if it was shorter, because even as it stands it amounts to just a couple of play sessions to tide us over for a couple of months. It would have been better if it was shorter, even so.

Thanks for your input, Rytlock.
Of course, the story is just a small part of the update. There was also a new Fractal and a new Raid, both big deals to their respective audiences. And a new map which includes a large, popular and much-needed meta-event for the PoF region.

What's more, my downbeat reaction is very much out of kilter with the wider response. The official feedback thread suggests this is the best-received LS chapter for a long while. It's an indicator that the game is, once again, moving in a direction that doesn't appeal to me as it chases a demographic of which I'm an outlier, at best.

I don't much like Path of Fire. I liked Heart of Thorns a lot. I guess I've had my fun. Now it's someone else's turn.


  1. I'm sorry that my words left wrong impression, but I didn't mean to call wyvern fight difficult. I was refering to Amnoon chapter as a whole, because this was probably the most times I wiped in any of the story instances (like six or seven times) due to endless waves of trash and elite lieutenants, that ignored my clones and autoattacked me in ranged combat for, like, 2000 damage per cast (I'm playing Berserker GS mesmer, because I like safety, but this was probably very poor choice for this specific instance). Wyvern, jailer and Scruffy were just boring damage sponges and I doubt something would've changed if I meleed them, in comparison, Koss melted so quickly I barely had anything to do to get achievement.
    Sorry if there are some mistakes, I rarely write something in English.

    1. Your English is excellent! It was me being unclear what I meant in the original post. Everyone tends to use "difficult" when what they mean is "it takes too long" though. It was evident in the forum thread that few people were actually having much trouble finishing the instances but a lot of people thought they were taking far too long.

      I suppose if I *had* to choose, I'd prefer long, tedious fights I could finish over ones that were genuinely too difficult due to mechanics above my skill level (like the old Liadri fight, for example, or some of the holiday jumping puzzles, which I know are completely beyond me). I'd rather they made fights that were both manageable for everyone and fun at the same time, though. They seem to have trouble with that.

  2. I haven't played this yet, but between your posts and UltrViolet's post, this sounds terrible. I'm almost wondering if I SHOULD play it. If the story isn't great and the battle is long and tedious... It sounds like the writing and annoyance is going back to the stuff that drove me away from this game the first time.

    Is the new zone at least worth looking at? :(

    1. The new zone is well worth seeing. It's probably the most interesting in the PoF suite so far. The Astralarium is a bit of a visual tour-de-force and the Corsair fleet is impressive too. It's notable that those are the two areas with the fewest aggressive mobs. I think the whole map would be a delight if it was culled of about 75% of its wildlife (and undead). It also has the big, complex map meta that PoF desperately needed, and yet that doesn't dominate the entire map. I wish it had been one of the main expansion maps.

      The fights in the instances are just tedious. None of them is difficult, there are just an awful lot of them and they take a very long time. I think it would be a good chapter to do in a full group - it would probably be very easy done that way. The story is just more of the same but I thought the writing felt a bit more tired than usual. Maybe whoever writes the snappy sarcastic lines for Rytlock and Canach was on vacation that week.

      That said, I think you liked PoF in general a lot more than I did, at least until ANet's business practices put you off, so you might get more out of it than I did. It's very much in keeping with the rest of the PoF story.

    2. I'm just a tad concerned because I helped a couple of my guildies through the end of PoF this past weekend. One of them absolutely hated the final boss fights (I think we need to look for an Ele build for her) and felt the ending of PoF was a big letdown. If this is going to add more frustration to the stack, maybe I should encourage a break from GW2 for now.


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