I have never claimed to be a fan of Guild Wars 2’s Living World model. Its concept when first touted sounded brilliant: an ever changing world, driven by story. What we received however was very different and instead of the world feeling as though it was changing, it felt smaller. I think it felt smaller because the majority of what ArenaNet were providing were bite-sized pieces of content, that were both temporary and repetitive. The content was, in fairness to ArenaNet, beautifully delivered with many of the Living World areas transformed masterfully. Whether it was Southsun Cove or Baazaar of the Four Winds, ArenaNet delivered in spades. Regardless of whether it was beautiful to look at, what you undertook every few weeks was repetitive. There’d be the same process of going to the new area, seeing a zerg of players kill the enemies, before quickly completing your achievements. Both the gameplay and the story felt too simplistic, even if the world around you was changing.
When Living World season 2 came along, I’d already begun to drift away because of ArenaNet’s approach to the first season (covering WildStar also called). Having played the beginnings of season 2 when it launched, it really didn’t blow me away. It felt as “bitty” as what had come before it, and I was still stuck with a cast of characters that I didn't particularly like, while the zones still felt micro-small. Having begun to replay season 2 recently on my Ranger this week, I have to say I've come full circle: I love it and it's clear that ArenaNet have learnt valuable lessons.
One of the hardest things to keep track of during Season 1 was the story itself. With the episodes coming every couple of weeks and spanning different storylines, it was hard to keep up withScarlet when there were so many other strands involved (Cutthroat Politics, Queens Jubilee to name but a few). In contrast and with Season 2, there’s a clear narrative because each episode follows on directly from the last. There’s no haphazard swapping between areas and there’s a clear consistency in the storytelling. It genuinely feels like this time around, the entire story arch was determined, made and then split into edible sections. In contrast I think Season 1 felt all too obvious that it had been designed and developed by multiple teams before being squashed together. I’m not suggesting Season 2 hasn’t been done the same (I’ve no doubt) but there’s a cohesion here unlike its predecessor.
Although I wouldn’t say that the voice acting is flawless (I do really love Taimi and her Golem) I’m actually find the story truly intriguing. It’s still very much a linear experience and there is little in the way of freedom (Dry Top is a highly walled zone) but I’m actually fine with that. The story and setting both really remind me of Guild Wars 1’s delivery. It has a good pace, a steady intermingling of instancing and world movement and the combat sections are difficult and fun.
If I have any gripes about this season, it’s the fact that Kasmeer and Marjory are, quite possibly, the worst couple in the history of couples. Their relationship had cringing at the end of Season 1 and this, in the early sections of Season 2, is no better. My problem isn’t just their lack of passion, but the fact that their exchanges as a young couple in love are so drab. Taimi on the other hand, as I’ve mentioned above, is brilliant and has saved this seasons story delivery. What I crave more than anything from the Living World seasons however are more of the animated cutscenes that are unique to Guild Wars 2. When I’m staring at in-game characters, it’s sometimes difficult to feel emotion. Entering Scarletts house in Dry Top should have been a true moment of apprehension and suspense: it’s the root of her beginnings. Instead, it felt soulless (or more soulless than it needed to be) because your interaction was nothing more than clicking on the door and attacking it. Would it not have been wonderful to see a cutscene of our heroes sneaking up to the house before barging in, booby traps and all?
I appreciate that the cutscenes ArenaNet create likely take a lot of time and resources but I think if ArenaNet are to continue in the vein they’re in (a very good vein, I might add!) then adding more of these cutscenes would be a huge benefit to the storytelling. They’ve already made great strides in removing or reducing temporary content and better still, content that’s repetitious. I’ve never once felt that I’m reliving Season 1, despite the thread of the story continuing.
When going back to Guild Wars 2 and its Living World, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Drusera instances of WildStar. Carbine might have delivered a series of polished areas filled with an interesting story, but it’s missing fundamental ways in which delivery is enjoyed. The text is small, there’s little or no voice over and I couldn’t find any way of tracking my progress. Worse still, you don’t feel like you’ve had any effect on the game world when you exit the instance irrespective of what you’ve undertaken. For that reason alone, Guild Wars 2 is always going to win against its competition, even if your impact on the world is artificial rather than procedural. So while I might have some niggles about Season 2 of the Living World, it has honestly blown me away. I think the team behind it have done a brilliant job at not only delivering on the story (and spreading plenty of breadcrumbs in the process) but packaging it in a way that is both fun and genuinely involving.
Tomorrow I’ll be sitting down with ArenaNet to discuss the next part of Living World that goes live on November 4th. I can't wait for both.