Guild Wars 2: Preparing For The Point Of No Return
On the 4th of November the second part of Season 2’s Living World will continue. On Tuesday of this week I had the good fortune of sitting down with Steven Waller and Bobby Stein, two individuals who are part of ArenaNet’s creative team behind Living World, to recap on what happened during the first half of the season and a little about what we can come to expect in terms of closure.
For anyone who hasn’t played through the first half of Season 2 and having recently completed it, I would sincerely suggest that you find the time to play it before the second half arrives. I wrote recently about my enjoyment of it, having played it a second time and in all honesty, I cannot wait for this second half. If you haven’t managed to play the first half of Season 2 or simply won’t have time, it might be best if you recap the story.
In truth there was a lot to digest from the first half of Season 2. We saw first hand Scarletts origins, what her pursuit of ley lines was for and how she not only came to discover this theory but why she was lead to madness. Alongside this there were plenty of offshoots in terms of mysteries that still need resolving.
Steven Waller, Associate Game Director at ArenaNet, states that, “We’ll be introducing a lot of interesting lore that has deep roots in Guild Wars, some things back to original Guild Wars 1 that has ties. We think people will be really excited about that and we’re going to visit some places that people have only speculated about or heard rumours that they existed. We’re going to learn some pretty big secrets that relate to Tyria’s past. This road to war is going to have these points along the way where things will happen and there’s no going back from them. These points of no return where actions will be put in place or information will be learnt and once it’s there, they’ll have impacts on Tyria forever. This idea of the road to war being paved with points of no return is the overall theme that we have working for the second half of the season and we think people are going to be really surprised by the variety of gameplay and instances but also the deep level of lore and information that they’re going to get about Tyria.”
One of the main things for me going into this new season is whether we can expect answers to the side plots that people didn’t notice or fully understand. There’s a large amount of strands still left untied:
- Where is the Master of Peace going?
- Where were the Zephyrites heading?
- What was the golden glow from the Zephyrites Airship?
- Why has the ship carrying that glow been looted?
- What lead Aerin to pursue the Master of Peace in this way?
- How will Marjory deal with Belindas death?
- Will Majory and Kasmeer be the same?
- How will Eir and Brahams relationship continue to improve after fighting together in the Shiverpeak Mounts?
- What is to become of Rytlock?
- What did the vision the Commander saw involving the golden chamber full of crystals mean?
- How will the battle against Modremoth shape up after the attack upon the Pale Tree and the Avatar?
Steven was on hand to relieve any apprehension I had about these issues being left open and stated that we’ll see some closure. “When the second half of season 2 comes out people are going to be able to look back and go “Ahh, yeah! I get that.” They’ll see how it (the story) was setting up and where it was headed.”
Bobby Stein, Guild Wars 2’s Lead Writer, waded in at this point. “At the conclusion of Season 1 we learnt a lot about how we wanted to tap into the lore or tap into the story pieces with the characters that players wanted to see more of. You probably noticed from the first half of the second season that we’ve been trying to adapt to those lessons. We’re carrying a lot of those things forward. We like to seed the episodes with what seem like minor details, but this set dressing and a lot of the things we’ve planted in the Festival of the Four Winds was where we started dropping hints into the game. For the people really examining the bits and pieces and exploring they’re going to see how things are pieced together.”
If there was anything I was concerned about from Season 1 it was always the fact that it felt disjointed. Were lessons learnt? Steven thinks so. “Season 1 was its own adventure and we learnt a lot. I think we brought a lot of those lessons into the first half of Season 2 in the way we intertwine the world content with the story. Some of the lessons learned in regards to the story, the characters or the pacing. Last year we had some meetings with people in different industries whether it was showrunners, authors or television and film folks to talk about how we define this new thing we’re doing: this episodic style of gaming in an MMO. We’re trying to merge the best of what people enjoy from a more passive linear experience with the interactivity and the grandness and cooperative nature of MMO’s. It’s to hopefully make something groundbreaking and it’s an experience that a lot of people enjoy.”
Interestingly, Steven also spoke about how the company had implemented speculative things since Festival of the Four Winds to get people interested from the start of the Season. “Specifically I think one of the bits people were talking about was what was the golden glow from the initial Zephyrite flythrough that showed the fleet and a new ship in there - different from the original in the Baazar of the Four Winds from a while back. When we panned by there was the glow from inside the ship before the door closed. Some people wondered what was going on there. Some picked up on it while others were like, “OK, there’s this ship.” It was never really explained but there’s something mysterious going on."
Perhaps it seems obvious, but I do think people will have missed many of this subtle storytelling because at times it’s so easy to skip text or not pay close attention to cutscenes when in actual fact ArenaNet are going out of their way to tell the story of what is happening in Tyria.
“If people were paying close attention when they went into Episode 1 where the Zephyrites were attacked and we learnt they were sabotaged, in the investigation instance that you go on there’s an area where the ship is crashed up in the cliffs. If you look, it’s the same area that’s shown to be the glowing area and in there is a chest of some sort that’s busted open. We didn’t call any specific attention to that but obviously if you looked at that, you’d think maybe there was something of value there.”
So what about the Master of Peace? How does he fit into all this? “In this case, the Master of Peace was saying something along the lines of “I can’t give you what you want”. This allowed people to speculate as to what Aerin wanted from the Master of Peace. There was also an interesting end to that for those that were looking closely. It almost looked like there was a glow coming from his backpack. Maybe what was originally in that ship which had the glow, was in the Master of Peace’s backpack. He headed off and at the time for the player and the band of heroes they were satisfied they’d done their part, but now we begin to wonder where was he going?”
Something I pointed out in my last editorial on the Living World was the fact that I was desperate for more cinematics. It’s one of the few things that ArenaNet does exceptionally well and they’re beautiful to look at. The one cinematic in the season which stands out is the vision where your character swims through an aetherial plane, approaching an icon that represents the Pale Tree. Could we be seeing more of this? Bobby Stein had some thoughts on it. “It’s another thing we’ve been trying to do a lot more of: visual storytelling. It’s a really powerful way of getting things across. In Season 1 there were a lot of cases where if we got a special cinematic made or special camera angle made it probably could have explained something a lot better than dialogue or a journal update. We’ve been working really hard with Season 2 to partner closely with the cinematics team to make sure that if there’s a great visual way of getting a point across, that we try to make that happen.”
One of my biggest concerns going forward, outside of the direct Living World story is the fact that going forward, the Journal is going to get bigger and bigger to the point where those entirely new to Guild Wars 2 face the daunting task of replaying a significant amount of Episodes in order to get up to speed. I asked Steven first if they were prepared for that. “We’ve talked before about Season 1 and how we’d eventually like to get it into the Journal. It’s still an idea that we would like, but for full disclosure we’re not working on that yet. We have a lot of things we’ve been trying to do with getting the second half of the season out, but it’s definitely something we’d like to do. It’s a question of when we can focus on it and also that there’s certain aspects that weren’t designed with the Journal in mind. There were some things in the open world that would need to be changed into instances. There’s some work involved in that. For the other part, one of the things we’ve tried to do is make it so each episode and each season can stand on its own. There’s a richness from playing them all together or back to back but the way I like to think of it is that you can have a richer experience in Guild Wars 2 if you played Guild Wars 1. If you never played Guild Wars 1, there’s still a ton of fun and a lot of things to learn and experience in Guild Wars 2 itself. We’ve made a lot of efforting in ensuring each episode is fun and that the seasons can stand on their own. Ideally if we can get episode 1 into the Journal we’d like to do that.”
Bobby Stein also had a little to say on the matter. “The Journal is obviously is kind of like an improved version of the My Story panel from the core game. What it allows us to do is compartmentalise the content into Episodes. We want to gear that story event content in a certain way so that it feels satisfying front to back so that you can experience it at your leisure. It also allows us to catalogue the events that happen so if there’s anything unclear or if there’s anything important that a player might need to know that they may have missed, they should be able to go into the Journal and reference it. If we’re ever fortunate enough to go back and I say that because it’s something we want to do, at the same time we can’t talk about that. We would want to take the elements for the coolest story that would tie into the continuous narrative of Guild Wars 2 and the Living World and try to give people the opportunity to experience the things they may have missed. We want stuff to be accessible in terms of being able to go in and play it on your own time.
Although my time with Steven and Bobby was short, if there’s two things that are clear from our recap session it was the fact that they’re super excited for players to see the second part of Season 2 but that they’re both incredibly passionate about Living World and its current and future potential. I’d have liked more time to pick both their brains on the wider ethos surrounding Living World, and with a bit of schedule wrangling we should do that in the next few weeks.
Guild Wars 2’s Living World Season 2, Part 2, arrives on November 4th. Tyria is at the point of no return, make sure you're part of it.