As the first month of Living World Season 2 winds to a close in Guild Wars 2, this seemed like a good point to report on how things are shaping up so far. True to their word, the folks at ArenaNet have obviously leveraged their experience from Season 1 and have taken the concept of its Living World updates in a much more cohesive direction.
The Story So Far
Even though some time had passed between seasons, we’ve picked up right where we left off following the death of Scarlet and destruction of Lion’s Arch. Both of these events have had a lasting impact on the game. Doubly so in Scarlet’s case as her past figures prominently in the storyline of Season 2. In particular, we retrace her footsteps upon the discovery of the ley lines that run beneath Tyria, and what she expects they represent on a much grander scale than has been fully revealed to players up until this point.
Back when we first defeated Scarlet, I was likely in the minority in my belief that she was not beyond the point of redemption; that Scarlet's death was not the only way to put an end to the path of destruction left in her wake.
Season 2 has proven that this was a necessary step after all – at least from a pure storytelling perspective. Having a Return of the Jedi-inspired Anakin Skywalker moment simply wouldn’t have worked in Scarlet’s case. Likewise, the process of discovery about Scarlet’s past has proven to be a far more interesting journey precisely because we are not hearing it through a direct monologue from the late protagonist.
Along with a more purposeful story, the playable overland content being added with Season 2 is a definite step in the right direction.
By comparison, the introduction of Southsun Cove simply didn’t work for me on multiple levels. To begin with, it was too much landmass all at once for the intended level range. Prior to the megaserver setup GW2 currently employs, Southsun effectively supplanted the critical mass of max level characters from maps like Cursed Shore to the point where it became an abandoned ghost town. The irony being that – whether you had defeated Zhaitan in your personal story or not – the Elder Dragon still won because the undead were in full command of Arah.
In Season 2, we’re being introduced to Dry Top and the Maguuma Wastes by degrees. The first two updates provided just enough overland content to keep players engaged for a larger chunk of the current update period. Previously, updates would be consumed within 2-3 days and then largely forgotten until the next one arrived.
The exception to that rule – and major turning point for Living World in general – was the Tower of Nightmares. Players consistently ran the map for the duration of the update, and the content was also structured in such a way that it encouraged social play.
Dry Top capitalizes on this same concept, though without being quite as linear as the Tower, and minus the oftentimes harsh environmental effects that helped prevent solo players from simply running through the tower with nothing to slow their progress.
Dry Top still features environmental effects, with the regular occurrence of sandstorms. This harkens back to an earlier period in the history of MMORPGs when developers still cared about and designed for things like the impact of weather or day / night cycles. For that I extend a very sincere thanks to anyone involved in the design, creation, and implementation of the sandstorm system in Season 2. I would love to see even more of this type of dynamic content enter the game as things progress. Knowing the iterative approach to design at ArenaNet, I can only imagine that there are much bigger things in store on that front.
Before I move on, I also tip my hat to the person or persons involved in mentioning one of the best Guild Wars characters of all time – Professor Yakkington – within the most recent update. If my necro had the ability to, they would surely found Yakkington University in honor of this magnificent beast.
The only real cloud marring an otherwise silver lining in Season 2 so far has been in the form of the mute protagonist. Having grown used to the voice acting of my characters in the base game, their lack thereof in Living World is still quite jarring to me. It stands out even more when contrasted with the exceptional voice work done for the companion NPCs who follow you on your journey.
Of course, I understand exactly why our character has lost their voice. Between the expense and availability concerns of bringing back the original cast, ArenaNet likely had to make a very hard decision. Either bring in new talent that would be an expensive gamble given the high likelihood of being somewhat off-putting, or silence our characters during key dialog moments.
Ideally, ArenaNet would work this directly into the story in some way, though that ship has likely sailed long ago.
While perpetually jarring, the mysteriously mute protagonist is nothing new in video games, and perfectly understandable in this situation. I would ultimately chalk it up to a nitpick versus a full-blown showstopper, as with many of the other minor gripes I’ve had so far with the current season of Living World.
Things are otherwise progressing nicely, and we have another promising update to look forward to next week. For those of you who haven’t viewed the trailer for The Dragon’s Reach: Part 1, you can do so here. Until then, have fun and stay safe in Tyria!