It’s finally here. More accurately it’s almost here. The reveal poster for Guild Wars 2 Living World Season 4’s finale, War Eternal dropped and it signals the beginning of the end. The battle against Kralkatorrik didn’t go quite how we expected it at the start of the year, and the end of All or Nothing certainly landed an emotional blow. Now with War Eternal looming over us, it is down to ArenaNet to make that emotional investment pay dividends. It’s also time to equip the tin foil hat (+ concentration) and speculate. Please do note as this is current there are spoilers for Living World Season 4.
After the events of Thunderhead Peaks, Rytlock, Taimi, Caithe,Cannach, the Commander and a host of hangers-on are in need of a small miracle to defeat Kralkatorrik. Not airships, rockslide, explosives, or the favored child of Glint could stop this hulking monstrosity. From Lion’s Arch to the sands of the Crystal Desert and beyond, we've already lost countless individuals, powerful allies, and left some questionable choices in our wake. Dragons are mythically old and we threw a child up against a prehistoric behemoth. Did we ever think it was going to go well? When you step back and look at it, not well. If you’ve read this far then you already know that Aurene is a corpse, impaled on branded crystals and departed our plain of existence, the hopes of Tyria were left in tatters as the penultimate episode closed on us. This left Dragon's Watch in a laughable state and my commander is far from the twig with a plan that I remember. Things are dire but that doesn’t mean we can’t win. It just means that victory might be a bit further away than we expected.
I’m generally of the opinion that we are going to defeat Kralkatorrik but there are more than a few reasons why it probably isn’t going to happen during War Eternal. From a narrative standpoint, we’ve spent an entire season leading up to this moment. With Living World episodes clocking up drastically less than 10 hours of central narrative content, it's unlikely that we will see enough action to adequately react even to Aurene’s death, never mind anything else. Eir’s passing and subsequent commemoration is a great example of the impact that a significant character death might have. The pacing here took time to honor them, and let our characters mourn. The very first episode of Living World Season 3, Out of the Shadows, was a fantastic reminder of Eir Stegalkin and her memory, and it caused a drastic shift in pace and its impact as an event had implications for Dragon’s Watch for a good chunk of Season 3 and into Path of Fire. It’s unlikely we will see this type of response but the death of Eir and Braham’s descent into a character only suitable to be vilified by the player base shows how serious a character death needs to be. In order to pay off that death, Kralkatorrik cannot be overcome by a simple Dues Ex Machina.
In an EGX Rezzed Developer talk, ClaytonKisko, Andrew Grey, and Lindsey Murdock talked through the years of build up that led to one moment at the end of All or Nothing. In order to pay off that effort, which the team talks about in their session quite extensively, it seems counterproductive to use a Dues ex Machina to the Kralkatorrik problem and ultimately undermine the emotional impact of Aurene’s death. That event was something that should impact our characters significantly and looking at the War Eternal Trailer, I don’t believe the implication that we might assault Kralkatorrik is entirely accurate. Isn’t it more likely that after Aurene’s death that we take to the air to chase down the Elder Dragon, running all the way into Season 5 of Living World?
At Gamescom 2018 I had a chance to speak to Mike Z when ArenaNet announced that they were not going to releasing another expansion for after Season 4 concluded. In the light of recent layoffs and revelations about the workforce distribution, this might not have been a decision that could go any other way but it does provide an opportunity for ArenaNet to maintain some narrative continuity. Generally, the Expansion packs have provided a definite stop point, proving highly accessible and allowing new commanders a jumping off point.
As Living World rolls directly towards season 5, Lindsey Murdock talked about the team’s approach to shaking things up a bit in a recent Eurogamer article.
"We announced Season 5 [and] we fully intend on making Season 5," Murdock said. "We already have our plans pretty well in place for that.
"We had to make some adjustments, and really those were about saying, 'You know what? This is an opportunity for us to assess whether we're just doing this because we always have - or because this has been the pattern for the past two seasons - or shall we refresh things a bit and do something a bit different?'
"Our fans have been asking for that - for us to do things a little bit differently and not be formulaic, so we took this as an opportunity to do that, to assess and make the right decisions for the game."
I’ve spoken, in the past, about the hero's journey and destination dead dragon. The initial launch of Guild Wars 2 and the Path of Fire delivered different experiences but ultimately they ended with our heroes moving through a dark and desperate time to downing an unspeakably powerful threat. This was in almost in danger of becoming tropish and it made the introduction of Living World gave us one of the game’s more interesting and enigmatic villains in Scarlet. Path of Fire changed things up when, in victory, we essentially kicked the can down the road. Now we’ve nearly reached the end of that journey that really began when we killed Balthazar, there is a decision for ArenaNet. Do we wrap things up nicely here, take the easy option and undermine a death that is clearly supposed to mean something or do we take the long road and explore the repercussions of what just happened? When it arrives, I’ll hope to see you all in the hunt for Kralkatorrik during Season 5 of Living World.
What do you think? Are we really going to end the menace forever? Will ArenaNet just resurrect Aurene and play us for fools, or is this just the beginning of the end?