Is It Time to Kill the Commander?
There’s a theme that, if you look for it, you’ll find threaded throughout Guild Wars 2. From the moment you push back centaurs at Shaemoor to the first steps on Orr and beyond. Guild Wars 2 takes player on epic adventures. Since August 2012, I’ve saved villagers, Slain Scarlet, put down Mordremoth, and faced off against Gods. I’ve survived magical uprisings, the destruction of Lion’s Arch, sinister plots, and I mentioned the time Lion’s Arch was destroyed, right?
Path of Fire is a magical addition to this adventure. It delves back into the sands of time, and rediscovered a land that holds special significance to many of the Guild Wars community. Yet, no matter the threat that Balthazar posed, I never had any doubt that things would work out for the best. While we did end up with a ridiculously powerful Dragon, Dragon’s Watch survived relatively unscathed after all.
The latest expansion was swiftly followed, in November 2017, with a return to Tyria’s own TV show. The Living World’s episodic arc is undoubtedly full of rich and engaging content, but when shows like Game of Thrones and Walking Dead are riding high in the ratings, are Tyria’s main characters playing it a little safe?
Series like Game of Thrones have managed massive success, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats every week while weaving together magic, adventure, and murder. Admittedly it’s visceral, bloody, and risqué experience way beyond the acceptable limits of ArenaNet’s audience, but it still never pulls any punches. Success in Westeros is treated almost like a disease. Ned Stark is carved out of the schedule with vicious abandon before you realise what is happening and Neegan was something of a cleansing action for the Walking Dead cast. This uncertainty instils a sense of personal threat has rarely touches the epic adventures of our Tyrian heroes. Well, except in one or two very particular instances.
While Guild Wars 2 was a triumphant origin story and Path of Fire was a magical exploration of lands old and new, Heart of Thorns was the desperate middle chapter of our story so far. For all its mechanical faults, Heart of Thorns took the threat of annihilation seriously. Mordremoth was a sizeable escalation over Zhaitan or Scarlet. The Jungle Dragon’s domain was, at times, crushingly difficult to explore and its influence turned old alliances on their head, as the Sylvari fell to its influence. The Pact’s assault barely got off the ground before it was plucked out, and in the end, nobody quite seems off limits.
The final toll of Heart of Thorns was significant. Countless soldiers dead, the Sylvari a potentially broken people, and two of the game’s most iconic characters deceased. The death of Trahearne and Eir was a monumental moment. It proved that more than just ancillary characters could be killed off. It brought the impact of war a little closer to the Pact Commander, breaking Destiny’s Edge and scattering the iconic characters across Tyria. It tested friendship and turned Braham into one of the game’s more interesting, if dislikeable, individuals.
Before this twist, the more affecting death I, and I’d ventured much of modern Tyria, had encountered was the sacrifice of Tyblat Leftpaw. A member of the Order of Whispers, with a chequered past and a taste for apples, Tyblat overcame the ambush of his warband and a missing paw to become a senior field officer in the order. After endearing this character to players, ArenaNet sacrifice him to save the player character, Trahearne, and junior agents of the order. It’s a decision that left Tybalt as one of the most fondly regarded characters from the personal story.
It isn’t just sacrifice and death that can bring this personal threat home however. Taimi’s recent abduction by Joko was at least mildly effective in reminding players about the limitations of their companions. Taimi has been used to this end before, after going out on her own. It’s a slightly darker twist that brings home the impact of war, and even seemed to skirt with the idea of exploring the emotional impact of the such a personal intrusion.
Now, while we currently face an enormously powerful Elder Dragon, this is simply a storm cloud on the horizon. While Kralkatorrik sits on its mountain, not even the most powerful branded storm can have the same emotional impact as a personal attack. With the introduction of Palawa Joko, as I’ve stated before, ArenaNet have an opportunity to introduce an agent of chaos to proceedings. While I love beating back Elder Dragons, the most impactful moments I’ve had in Tyria have been personal and the Pact Commander has gone quite a long time unscathed. Failure and despair can generate some of the most interesting character traits, from the classic antihero to a quest for revenge, and maybe it is time to see that side of the Pact Commander. Is it time for things to get a little darker in Tyria? Does the Commander need to fall or should Joko simply succeed in unleashing the Scarab Plague? In essence, do we need a more personal tragedy to reset the scales?