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Guild Wars 2 Column: The Neverending Story (Journal)

By Jason Winter on July 14, 2014

I'll admit to not being entirely on board with the new-fangled story Journal as it was posted on the Guild Wars 2 site a month ago. “Repeatable” was the keyword that most of us latched onto, and there was stuff about “no pounding-signpost-grinding” and “challenge” in there, but I figured I'd wait until it all went live before getting too pumped up about anything.

So naturally, now that it's all live, two weeks is plenty of time to come to conclusions about it all, right?

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Let's think of this more like a “first impressions” of the story Journal and its associated achievements, its implementation and enjoyability, and what we can expect in the future. Everything's subject to change, of course, though that might require Transmutation Charges.

Our story so far...

The story Journal is easy enough to figure out when you first log in. There are green stars pointing you to stuff, cut scenes, a story to follow... all stuff we're used to. Playing through the story instances the first time is a breeze and having a running narrative about what's going on that you can refer back to anytime if you're a bit lost – akin to what you get with Personal Story – is a welcome touch.

That wasn't the case in Season 1. If you just jumped into the game after being away for a while, you had little idea who Scarlet Briar was, or even Rox, Braham, and the other heroic characters unless you felt like doing a lot of research on the website, wiki, Reddit, and elsewhere. Fundamental introductions to major characters, or at least in-game “Story so far...” text should probably never have been made unavailable. The story Journal makes that information much more accessible in the game, which is where it belongs.

(That said, shouldn't there be something in the story Journal about season 1? I know you can talk to an NPC in Gendarran Fields to get the most basic breakdown of what happened, but that's hardly common knowledge and it seems like the story Journal would be the perfect place to put that information.)

Repetitive motion

That said, the story Journal could still use some improvement with how it handles multiple playthroughs, alts, and achievements.

Once I completed the story on my first character, I lingered for a while on the “Replay” button, not certain of how it would affect my progress. I knew I wanted to do the achievements, so would this reset my progress? Would I have to go through each of the combat instances in order or would I be able to skip around? What about the non-combat stuff? How would it affect my alts? All of this was figured out with a little trial and error and no real pain, but the trepidation was real.

My only actual issue with how the story Journal operates, as opposed to how confused I was about some of its implementation is with the achievements. I don't mind the achievements themselves (more on those later), but I really wish I could complete them on an alt after I'd done the instances once on another character. My basis for thinking this was possible comes from this passage in the original description of the story Journal:

“Once one character on your account has completed an episode in their story Journal, every character on your account will have access to a set of challenging achievements. At any time once unlocked, you can return and attempt to replay that episode in order to complete the achievements.”

Once I completed the story on my first character, the achievements were unlocked in their own tab and every character on my account could view them, but “every character on your account will have access to a set of challenging achievements” simply wasn't true. So, when I started the story on another character and tried to do the achievements... nothing. If I wanted to do them on that character, I'd have to complete the story on her first, even though the achievements appear in her story Journal. Curious.

I can understand not having the achievements available during your first playthrough on your account. ArenaNet wants us to concentrate on and appreciate the story when we're first exposed to it and not be overly concerned with specific tasks other than completion. You can also think of your first time through as a “practice run” to get you familiar with the instances so you can attempt the more challenging task of tackling the achievements later.

But after that first time through, I know the story already. I just want to get the achievements. I get that, as with any MMO, there needs to be an incentive to get you to repeat content, but I think there might be a better way to make achievement-chasing a little less repetitive.

I achieve things! I'm an achiever!

As for the achievements themselves, they're not too challenging but are at least interesting enough to this mediocre player a sense of accomplishment beyond the usual “Yay, I killed 100 of something, now can I please never do that again?” feeling you had far too many times with the achievements in Season 1. I do sort of miss the meta-achievements and feeling like I was progressing toward something bigger rather than getting a bunch of smaller, individual rewards, but I guess there has to be some trade-off.

I'm sure that some players whipped through the story and achievements on the first day and “finished” the new content almost as soon as it appeared. Admittely, Dry Top is a small zone and, even with the new achievements and the need to repeat instances, it can all be explored in a fairly short period of time. And some people will complain that the achievements are too easy and don't represent the application of any significant skill.

Both of those points are probably true, especially to veteran players, but I don't think, especially at the start, that the bonus achievements need to be as difficult as beating Liadri. ArenaNet's going to see how people fare at first and make future achievements easier or harder based on feedback and whatever completion data they collect. As with any part of the game, achievement difficulty tuning will take time to get just right. In the meantime, let them be a little on the easy side to give people a good feeling about the new content. It's a little like how the first levels of an MMO are meant to be easy, to get you a feel for how things work and to build up your confidence.

I do wonder, though, how the story Journal and achievements will work with big, self-contained events and content, like the Twisted Marionette or Tower of Nightmares. I worry that, when group-based content comes along, people will be so focused on achievements that have little to do with actual completion that they'll disrupt their groups to complete them. I suppose that was a risk with the old method, too, but now that achievements seem to have added importance and individual rewards, it'll be intriguing to see how it all turns out.

In any case, I think the story Journal is a solid improvement over the previous method of achievement and story tracking for Living Story and I look forward to seeing what ArenaNet does with it in the future. Hey, maybe achievements like this could get people access to precursor crafting? HAHAHAHA, OK, sorry about that. Silly me.

Jason Winter is the semi-proud owner of an underwater legendary weapon. He's been gaming long enough to remember when the Atari 2600 was a thing and when Ms. Pac-Man was all the rage. Get off of his lawn and find him on Twitter @winterinformal.

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