The Biconic Women (and Man)
They may not be the heroes Tyria wanted, but they're the heroes Tyria deserved. Or maybe they're also the heroes Tyria wanted. I'm always a little confused by that adage...
Popularly known as the “biconics” (as compared to the original “iconic” heroes of Destiny's Edge), the pseudo-team of Rox Whetstone, Braham Eirsson, Marjory Delaqua, Kasmeer Meade, and Taimi have burrowed into the hearts of Guild Wars 2 players like a devourer in a sand pit.
A few weeks ago, I ran the final part of the personal story, the Arah story mode dungeon, which is completed alongside the five members of Destiny's Edge, and I thought: “Oh yeah, I remember these guys.” If I had the choice, I would have rather completed the dungeon with the biconics, even if it meant no fancy cut scenes or conversations. I think most people would agree with that sentiment.
So why is it that the “original” heroes of the game, which were carefully plotted and planned for years, have been so quickly usurped in popularity by these newcomers? What went wrong with the old group or right with the new one?
The iconic characters came pre-loaded into the game with an extensive history. They banded together under odd circumstances. They fought an elder dragon. One of their members died, leading to a rift that still festered five years later, when the game started.
So, how did you know about all this? There were one of two ways: Either you read the book, Edge of Destiny, or characters in the game told you about it. You never actually saw any of it; you only learned about it through text or secondhand retellings. So, right out of the gate, we're expected to piece together this group's complex history and be sympathetic to their plight. That's hard when your means of experiencing that plight are limited.
Compare that to how the biconics were introduced. In every case, we knew nothing about them when they first appeared in the game. Every player was on equal footing with their knowledge about them, with no outside reading required (though a few short stories were provided on the Guild Wars 2 website). And none of them had done anything as remarkable as trying to take down an elder dragon, so we didn't feel overwhelmed by them, like they were some great heroes and we should consider ourselves fortunate to bask in their glow.
Stories can benefit from introducing a “seasoned hero” character that the main character looks up to and admires. I think the intent was to have that be the case for a character's first 30 levels and then hand them off to their order and, eventually, Trahearne. But that's just substituting one “boss” for another, and then, in the end, you go back to Destiny's Edge who stand around and cheer you on while you take down Zhaitan – and then say, “We did it!” “We”?
The biconics are more relatable, less famous, and seemingly more equal, and they seemed to take on a smaller role in your battles with Scarlet Briar and her minions; they're more complementary than necessary to the story. You feel like you're the hero and they're your friends and allies, and less like they're the real heroes and you're just along for the ride.
Keeping it real
Tension in a group is to be expected – it's a classic hallmark of drama. But maybe the heroes of Destiny's Edge were a little too salty toward one another. As we were wandering through Tyria trying to convince various peoples to set aside their differences and unite against the dragons, the same issues plagued the iconics.
And, after a while, with all the bickering and backbiting, we just stopped caring. Rytlock still wants to give Logan the finger? Zojja still hasn't forgiven Eir? Fine, whatever. Move on and let someone who cares (like the player) do the work and stand in the spotlight.
The biconcs are friendlier toward each other – in the case of Marjory and Kasmeer, very friendly. That can also be boring, but it's arguably a better base to start with. I expect we'll see a little more internecine conflict during season two, but at least when it happens, we'll have memories of the good times to fall back on and work toward. We'll want to see our friends reconcile with each other, because we know how good they can be together – and not from reading it in a book.
Did you think one of the biconics was going to die at the end of season one? I thought it was a strong possibility, and it appears to have been part of ArenaNet's original plans, too. Looking back now, I think it was probably for the best that they didn't do this, simply because the characters were too new. Offing one so relatively soon after their introduction would have been a waste of their development thus far. Even George R.R. Martin knows enough to get readers really invested in characters before heartlessly murdering or mutilating them.
No such drama existed with the iconics. Because they were all heavily present in the personal story and dungeon cut scenes, you never truly feared for their lives. The same held for secondary characters, too, like Queen Jennah and Faolain, whose elimination would require massive rewrites of the already established story lines and, in some cases, their replacement in the open world.
Maybe that's why we treat the biconics as something special – because we have legitimate concerns about their well-being. When Scarlet blasted Marjory, I thought there was a non-zero chance we'd come back from the fight and find her dead. If it had been Logan or Eir in the same position, I wouldn't have been as anxious.
Lather, kill Zhaitan, repeat
Finally, I think a major reason we got tired of the iconics but aren't yet tired of the biconics is simple repetition. By now, most of us have done personal story and dungeons multiple times, and each time we have to endure the same (or nearly the same) conversations, over and over. Even when we skip the cut scenes, we know they're there, going through the motions for the umpteenth time.
And if I never have to see Destiny's Edge's “reunion” scene in Lion's Arch again, I'll be happier than a skritt guest-starring on Firefly (shiny!).
That could be a hidden strength of the temporary nature of the Living Story, that we only have brief glimpses into the lives of the biconics and then, like the passage of time, they're gone (mostly) forever. I'm still not 100% sure how the Story Journal will work, but I think that we'll generally only have to view a cut scene once, while the story-light, action-heavy gameplay stays repeatable and entertaining. That should help to keep the biconic interactions fresh without feeling like they're being force-fed to us every time we want to play the related content.
This may all have come across as an indictment of the original, iconic, heroes of Destiny's Edge. But, like all elements of the game, the team at ArenaNet is learning as it goes. We're seeing better-crafted dungeons and large events, an evolution of the rewards system, steady improvements to WvW maps and gameplay, and the usual balance and design fixes inherent in MMOs. It's sort of like comparing “old” Tequatl to “new” Tequatl. The first one was what it was – fun the first few times but showing its cracks after repeated viewings – and the new version is an improvement. There's no reason to think the writing and NPCs shouldn't improve in the same way.
Or, as this screenshot, taken in beta, indicates, the disclaimer doesn't just apply to code and bugs:
What is it about the biconics that you love? Or hate? Or does your heart still belong to the epic Rytlock/Logan bromance?
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.