Guild Wars 2 and the Living Story Season 1 finale

The following post contains minor spoilers for the end of the GW2 Living Story Season 1 plotline, but I’ll say before I start on them. Mostly it’s an article about narrative within GW2 and the first LS season.

Either way, this is kind of long, so it’s been put behind a cut.

The Guild Wars 2 Living Story concept is something I find amazing. Like a lot of the GW2 featureset, it’s kind of revolutionary. Every few weeks content is added to the game, which advances the story and changes the world, and then with the next patch most of it is gone, leaving only its effects. The giant monster you defeated last month? Its metallic corpse is gathering snow in the mountains still. The scenery around where the nightmare tower errupted and was destroyed is blacked and dead still, but growing back. The world moves on, and the content you missed? You missed it. Sorry about that.

The concept I love, it breaks a lot of the static-time effects of MMOs, where it’s hard to imagine this as any kind of real world, and it adds new avenues of content to the game. Areas are built, bits are destroyed, the world moves on.

The concept I love, but some of the execution… 

Arenanet have a problem with narrative. For the latter third of the main quest arc of GW2, you are part of a team of the best of the best, the most elite of the elite, the A-Team of the world. And this A-Team which will save the world from darkness? It is lead by… not you. It’s led by a talking pot-plant named by Trahearne, who trusts you, who is saving the world. You’re helping! You are Trahearne’s right hand hero, at his back.

And this is very close to a really cool narrative. Very close indeed, in fact. Just one step forward, and to the left.

It’s something you don’t often see in games, and I suspect it allows them to have harder control of the narrative. Rather than pretend your character – no matter their background or training – is doing the heroic save the world thing, Trahearne is doing it, and you’re doing the important work that sees it done. But you’re not the hero of your personal story as of Act III, Trahearne is. And it’s a wonderful bit of Guild Wars lore, and it means that the story can always be consistant going forward (Trahearne saved the world! There can be statues of him, rather than of whichever player did it last).

So the resounding result of the GW2 personal story from launch was it was a great story with an annoying protagonist.

Enter Scarlet.

The Antagonist of the first year of the Living Story is another talking pot-plant called Scarlet Brier. She united a lot of the bad guys together of the course of the middle six months of last year, and then has spent the last six months deploying them to new places every couple of weeks to wreck more havoc in a new way. Now, I’ve missed a lot of the Living Story. I tend to play MMOs on a rotating schedule of specific interest, and GW2 cycled out in favour of TSW and then LOTRO last summer. It’s not really even concious, I just find myself playing something else. So I missed a lot of the actual events of the Living Story, because during the first part I wasn’t interested – it didn’t start well – and then I was elsewhere.

Scarlet’s annoyingness transcended that.

Scarlet is part of a recently discovered race (tick) who are part of a hive mind, kind of, but she’s broken free of it (tick) and discovered she’s smarter than everyone else (tick), and she was so impressive that collages let her into *all of them* in sequence instead of just one like everyone else in history (tick), and she found she really was better than everyone else and everyone liked her, but they were all so limited in their thinking that she was expelled…

Basically, Scarlet has serious Mary Sue issues. She has green eyes and red hair, she’s better and smarter than everyone else, and she’s been entirely invulnerable and undefeatable – and unsetbackable, for that matter – for six months of being an absolute *dick*. 

At the start of the last event, she’s finally built her magical supership and invaded the main hub-town of the entire game, and now you finally get to kill her. Her schtick is part of the “Eternal Alchemy”, and divides power into DynamicStatic and Synergetic. So the big event is when one huge boss of each decends on the city, and if you kill them all you can “atune” yourself to all three and thereby use her teleporters to get to her ship. (Big fight, whole map on three bosses, it’s quite cool).

Once there you are in a tedious square-dance where in order to do any damage at all you have to step in three coloured circles within thirty seconds, whereby you get a buff that allows you to do damage for thirty seconds, and then you can go circle hunting again. On top of that the boss is doing area attacks and line putting down temporary damage splats, so generally it’s a big square-dance. Then she splits by colour, and you have to run into the right coloured circle for the thing you’re fighting to do damage. Then back to the original fight for the last phase. Generally you’ve got about 80 people in one small room doing this one big fight, and it’s got some interesting mechanics, but generally it gets tedious after the first ten minutes. If you don’t complete it in 20 minutes, you’re killed straight up.

Spoilers for the end of the storyline begin here, and end with the next bold sentence.

Then you get to go to a solo instance where you actually kill her (Hilariously, using your currently equipped PvP Stomp power, so in my case she got stomped by a giant rabbit). And in this it works well, the person who eventually destroys the bad stuff is *you*, and you get to be the hero of the story. The final reveal – Scarlet is the servant of a dragon she was trying to awaken, successfully – sets up for an interesting next season.

And there end the spoilers

Interesting things include the budding relationship between two female characters that takes an extra step with this arc, which means there are more canon F-F love affairs in this game than M-F, to my knowledge. There are fanbois complaining that straight relationships are being marginalized, but frankly they can go fuck a duck.

Either way, I liked the end to the story, I hope we can go back to rebuilding now, and I’m looking forward to whatever ANet start with Season 2, they’re getting better at this narrative malarkey.

Computer Games


This is Salique. She’s a Human Engineer in Guild Wars 2:



My first MMO was Ultima Online. For a long time, I tried a lot of MMOs for a trial period, until I eventually hit City of Heroes and found one I liked. Since then I have got a CoH Scrapper to level 45, a Cataclysm-era Warlock to 65 in WoW, and a LOTRO Minstrel all the way to 33. My Secret World Illuminati is lost in Transylvania and my Rift Sabotage Rogue’s lost somewhere about two thirds though the original content. My Star Wars Sith and Smuggler are both somewhere in the mid-30s, too.

But if you click on that screenshot, you’ll see something different.

Salique is the very first character I’ve ever made who hit the level cap. I didn’t even screenshot it when it happened, but it almost certainly looks like this:


Note the large flamethrower, the cool hat, and the large amount of flame.


So, since I tend to get bored of MMOs around the mid-level mark, what’s different about GW2 that avoided this problem?

I think part of it is that the level didn’t actually matter.

Level Scaling

Because in GW2 you’re always never more than slightly overpowerful, the thing you’re doing – be it an event, or a renown heart or… Oh, yeah.

Guild Wars 2 Works Differently

So, the Quest Hub method of progression has been popular since the early days of D&D. Arrive in a new area, speak to an NPC or NPCs, get some things to do, go forth into yonder wilderness/castle/swamp/fields/ocean wander back, gain new NPC to move to new area. Repeat. GW2 has no NPCs who give out things to do. Instead, when you wander within range, you get a notification that that NPC over there wants people to kill ten rats, to heard these geese, to water these plants, to hunt those worms. Sometimes these involve transformations, special powers, new implements, new mechanics. When you’ve done enough stuff for them, you can move on to the next heart. Scouts give you an idea of what the area’s like, and what Hearts are around in the area.

The second major thing driving you from place to place are events. A wagon might appear with some supplies in it, and want some escorts to keep bandits from getting at the stuff. Escort the wagon, fight off the bandits, gain XP.

But when the wagon gets to the destination, it means the captain has enough weaponry to start a raid on the lost garrison over yonder, and would you mind helping? Storm the garrison, rescue the residents, save the day, gain XP.

But after holding the garrison for a little while, the bandits start trying to claim it back, increasing waves of fights trying to get back inside. Kill the bandits, defend the keep, gain XP.

If you hold off the bandits, it’s a good time to stage a hit on the bandit base. Escort the captain, kill the bandit, kill the boss bandit leader, gain XP, gain a loot chest.

And everything’s quiet, except the bandit raids are stepping up again…

These are all over the world, and while they maintain themes, they’re all scripted differently, they’re mostly all new. Some are funny, some you’ll win, some you’ll lose. Some you can’t trigger until you have loads of people in the zone, some only require a few. Sometimes you’ll catch a symbol out of the corner of your eye and talk to an NPC, and start a quest chain that leads to fifty PCs fighting alongside you as you try to destroy a giant beast from beyond time.

Then you move on.

Level Scaling

And because you can only outlevel an area by a couple of notches before the level scaling kicks in (You never lose abilities, but your hit ability and health are scaled down to the level for the area), you never feel overpowered, and you never are forced to move on. The difficulty curve remains almost entirely flat unless you start hitting the big end game content, or things designed for more people than you have.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that I think I’ve leveled Salique in roughly half the time I’ve spent getting my LOTRO minstral to Level 33. But that’s not the aim, really. The aim is the aim I set, which… well, 100% map completion looks good. All the hearts, all the extra skill points. 46% done…



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