Praise Joko! The Dragons are dead! Well, they might as well be. Guild Wars 2 launched way back in 2012 with the promise of an epic story, wild adventures, and giant world ending dragons. The six prehistoric dragons have always hung over Tyria, a constant source of dread, and the reason we’ve missed more than a few Dragon Bash festivals. But with the close of the latest Living Worlds episode, I began to wonder if the dragons are really the biggest threat Tyria has to offer, or if the best villains in Guild Wars 2 are neither gods nor monsters.
In the time I’ve spent in Tyria, we have slain dragons, saved a queen, partied like it was Wintersday, and conquered our enemies. Not once, however, did I ever have the slightest doubt that when I jumped into the Heart of Thorns, that it would result in anything other than a predictable victory. The final fallout for anybody on the Path of Fire was not so definite, but it still kicked Kralkatorrik into the long grass. This absolute behemoth now perches somewhere over the mountains lobbing branded into Tyria and doing little more than lingering like a storm on the horizon.
The Elder Dragons might be an absolutely apocalyptic threat, but a familiar air of certainty surrounds them. A certainty that you will eventually be saved or that the world will come to an end. They are an unrelenting force of nature that do not bend to the will of mere mortals. They are the weather.
Whether it’s Bubbles the sea Dragon or Primodus the Elder Dragons are equivalent to ArenaNet’s own asteroid impact. They are a seemingly unrelenting force that drives the narrative forward. But an RPG, like any story, thrives on its villains. A force of nature cannot be reasoned with, it has no morals, it is not evil, it simply is. Thankfully, Living World Season 2 introduced a solution to these heartless monsters.
Scarlet Briar burst into the Queen’s Jubilee, with a flurry of excitement and a cacophony of chaos. She dropped giant machinations on Tyria, destroyed entire landscapes, and terrorized the population of Lion’s Arch. While Scarlet’s attacks abated after around ten episodes, brief in the history of Guild Wars 2, they were significant. Despite being quite mad, she gave the destruction of Tyria a face.
Scarlet turned a fairly typical trudge towards another dragon, into a very personal fight for the future of Tyria. Where you simply fight or flee an incoming dragon, Scarlet managed to hoodwink players more than once and eventually struck down Lions Arch. This new antagonist had motives, feelings, ambitions, and a personality that players could engage with. I personally found her intriguing, but whether you loved or hated her she provoked a reaction.
In the end, Scarlet was nothing more than a leaf in the forest, dwarfed by the power of Mordremoth. Still, she remains one of the most effective villains that Guild Wars 2 has ever had. She gave players something to measure themselves against, made them feel righteous against an opponent that seemed diametrically opposed to everything they stood for. In short, she was easy to hate
This sort of central antagonist reappeared in Path of Fire when Balthazar’s ego proved an ingenious threat. It shifted the focus of the latest expansion away from an all-consuming beast to a deity that understood how to manipulate our heroes from the outset, fooling Rytlock into freeing him and causing at least a little internal ire among Dragons Watch.
Palawa Joko is an even better example of this type of opponent. For the uninitiated, Joko is a King who has survived since the earliest days of Tyria’s written history. Initially a clown prince of the undead, he extorts loyalty through intimidation and wields an undead army at his whim. He is a distinctly callous monarch that will torture opponents to death and resurrect them. He seems to revel in the suffering of his subjects. While Scarlet drew definite parallels to Harley Quinn, you could say Joko is far closer to Tyria’s own Joker. In every way you could describe him, he is evil.
These type of characters are the figurative face of the enemy. They allow us to project and empathize in a way that the Elder Dragons do not. They provide a platform to tell stories of good versus evil. They can be cruel and vindictive, testing us as they snatch away our friends, blackmail us, or strike at the heart of our homeland just because they are able to. Now, with the Scarab Plague in hand, Joko is sure to strike somewhere.
We have already seen his handiwork. Taimi’s brush with death has revealed a more personal touch to our villain than we’ve seen before. As Joko slips further from comic book chuckles into darker tones, ArenaNet has the opportunity to touch on the horrors of war, how it shapes those caught in its wake and what it leaves behind. Joko is already showing glimpses of greatness, but if ArenaNet let him loose I think we could see one of the greatest villains Tyria has ever come across.
Praise Joko, because frankly Guild Wars 2 needs great villains.