Guild Wars 2′s First Living World Season In Review
Time waits for no Tyrian it would seem. Mere days after wrapping up the first season of their Living World arc for Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet are busy revealing the next update in the works, and bidding farewell to a narrative that has stretched over the best part of a year. But before Season One heads off into the sunset, I’d like to take a look at it one last time. Because despite all the talk of whether the main antagonist was little more than a ‘Mary Sue’ (a character deemed to be poorly developed, and too perfect), the Living World contained much that was praiseworthy, and so I’d like to do just that.
Spread across four months, I think it’s fair to say that the Living World got off to a slow start with the Flame and Frost updates. Bringing together two previous unrelated enemy factions, the update was both intriguing and frustrating in equal measure. Clearly, the coming together of the Dredge and the Flame Legion was a significant event, but players had to wait for what felt like an eternity for the story to progress though each of its stages. When the conclusion did come, Tyria’s heroes were rewarded with a sweet mini-dungeon that many were sorry to see go away. Flame and Frost concluded at the end of April, and afterwards, the player-base settled down to ruminate on all things Living World. Like many players, I didn’t immediately understand what ArenaNet was trying to achieve with the Living World, but I did find it interesting enough to hold off judgement until I did. In June, players were given another piece of the Scarlet Briar puzzle.
No sooner had players dealt with the catastrophic events on Southsun Island, and wrapped up the Dragon Bash celebrations, they were plunged into a new series of sinister events. The Sky Pirates of Tyria introduced us to an entirely new faction – The Aetherblades - who were intent on bringing more trouble to the citizens of Lions Arch. Over the course of the update, players would have to solve the brutal murder of a Lions Arch council member, and somehow put an end to the Aetherblades nefarious deeds. Another temporary dungeon – the Aetherblades Retreat was the backdrop for the conclusion for the Sky Pirates story, and featured a boss fight that took no prisoners. Much wailing about the difficulty was heard upon the forums! Although the real villain of the piece had yet to be revealed, the pace had picked up, and things had started to get interesting. On to the next update!
The seemingly unrelated events of the Flame and Frost and Sky Pirates of Tyria updates got a whole lot less mysterious in August, when the two faction came together for the Queens Jubilee and Clockwork Chaos updates. Things began innocently enough, with the opening of the Crown Pavilion gladiatorial arena, and players joyfully pounding Clockwork Knights in return for loot. Then, as the celebrations were coming to an end, things took a sinister turn. During the Queen Jennah’s closing speech, the party was gatecrashed by none other than Scarlet Briar – revealed to us for the first time. Irritated by the Queens pomposity, Briar re-purposes the knights for her own ends, and uses them along side the Flame and Frost Alliance and the Aetherblades to cause havoc all over Tyria. With invasions going on all over the place, players got busy hoovering up champion loot, and err… protecting the innocent, obviously.
Scarlet’s bringing together of disparate factions continued in October and November, with the Twilight Assault, Tower of Nightmares, and The Nightmares Within updates. Beginning with the discovery that Briar was building her army within the Twilight Arbor dungeon, heroes across Tyria would soon find themselves facing up to the destruction wrought in Kessex Hills. Combining the twin threats of The Nightmare Court and the reptilian Krait, Scarlet Briar had created a deadly toxin gas, and it was spreading out from the newly revealed Krait tower dominating Viathan Lake. The fight back eventually progressed to both inside the tower, and all the way up it, and bringing it down would take a huge effort from players. By continually injecting an anti-toxin into the heart of the tower, players eventually destroyed the monstrous edifice, and ended this particular poisonous little piece of Scarlet’s scheme.
The Origins of Madness update was where the season really began heading towards a conclusion. Scarlet Briar was beginning to bring everything she had learned from exploiting the various factions she’d used to bear, and the whole thing felt as is it was building up to something big. The main focus of the patch was the Twisted Marionette boss fight, and in my opinion, it was pretty damn epic. Players had to band to together to defend five different “lanes” beneath the marionette, while golems attempted to open portals to the five airborne platforms from which the marionette was suspended. Each lane would then get a chance to transport themselves up to a platform, defeat the boss upon it, a sever one of the marionette’s strings. It required a great deal of player co-operation, the boss fights were tough, and I absolutely loved it.
The first season of the Living World finally concluded this month with the Battle for Lions Arch update, and I have to say, I’ve never seen anything like it. Scarlet Briar’s months of planning came to a head, when she and her many minions launched an all out assault upon the city of Lions Arch, claiming the lives of many of its citizens. What started as a desperate fight to evacuate the city turned into all out war, and a determined attempt to finish Scarlet once and for all. Of all the Living World updates, this was my favourite. Lions Arch genuinely felt like a war zone, and fighting our way through the Assault Knights, and up on to Scarlet’s Breachmaker airship was both challenging and satisfying. Any doubts as to whether the Living World would truly alter the world of Tyria were dispelled with the destruction of Lions Arch, and the second season was nicely set up by the ending of the first.
I cannot begin to describe my admiration for ArenaNet for having the courage to destroy Lions Arch. For those of you who don’t play the game, let me tell, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s the main hub city of the game. The majority of crafting is done there. The majority of trading is done there. Every other capital city in the game links to it, and every seasonal event is centred upon it. Lions Arch is the spiritual centre of the whole game world, and now it’s in ruins. After all the fighting was over, and Scarlet Briar was finally defeated, players had the opportunity to wander the wreckage that is Lions Arch, and so I did just that. Now I’m not given to getting overly emotional when playing videos games, but wandering around through that destruction did get to me a little. The city I’d spent so much time in, over the course of two Guild Wars games, was gone, perhaps forever.
Scarlet Briar’s attempts to bring destruction to the whole of Tyria wasn’t the only thing going during the Living World’s first season. As well as the aforementioned Southsun and Dragon Bash updates, ArenaNet managed to (somehow) cram in the old-skool joy that was Super Adventure Box, bring us the beautiful Bazaar of the Four Winds, indulge in some electioneering with the Cutthroat Politics update, add more Super Adventure Box and reboot one of the world bosses, celebrate Halloween with Blood and Madness, implement a major update to the Fractals of the Mists dungeon, and finally, get all Christmas-y with the Wintersday event. How they found time to do it all, I’ll never know. From a players perspective, I can tell you that it felt like we never had a moments rest, and from time to time it felt quite tiring, but at least we couldn’t complain about having nothing to do.
Despite the non-stop nature of it all, I personally really enjoyed the Living World. I know Scarlet Briar hasn’t been to everyone’s taste, but I’ve found her reasonably interesting – increasingly so as the story progressed. I won’t deny The Living World did begin rather tentatively. ArenaNet started off at a very slow pace, and the player-base took a while to fully understand what the developer was trying to do, but by the midway point, both parties had found their groove and the Living World came alive. ArenaNet have learnt an awful lot from the first season of the Living World, and I know they’ll put that new knowledge to good use. With Lions Arch in ruins, and another Elder Dragon stirring, many players are excitedly discussing where the story goes next, and how long we’ll have to wait. Knowing ArenaNet, it won’t be long before they give us a hint.
When the official forums are awash with complaints about Mary Sues and temporary content, it’s easy to assume that players haven’t enjoyed the Living World, but you’d be wrong. Like all games, the players happily enjoying the content are just getting on with playing the game, and not posting on the forum, and I’m one of those people. To me the Living World hasn’t solely been about Scarlet Briar and her descent into madness, it’s also been about the development of new characters. Over the course of the season we’ve met Braham and Rox, Marjory Delaqua and Kasmeer Meade, and Asurian genius Taimi, and learning about them and watching their respective relationships grow has been fantastic, and really made the whole Living World a worthwhile adventure for me. With speculation about future expansions still rife, I’m content to know that whatever ArenaNet decide to bring us next, it’ll be something special. Roll on Season Two!