The New Zone Has a Lot Going On, But Will It Be Enough?
After a solid week-plus in Guild Wars 2's much-anticipated update, Out of the Shadows, I've got conflicted feelings. It's nice to (finally) have something new to do again that isn't raid-related, but I don't think the update is the kind of transcendental chunk of content that's going to radically transform people's views of the game.
Let's start with the story content – and yes, spoilers lie ahead. It starts off slowly, as might be expected; there isn't a whole lot of fighting to do at a funeral or deep inside a (mostly) secure base in Rata Novus. (Taimi's dialogue is the absolute best.) Still, I feel like something more “action-y” would have been nice to get things kicked off on the right foot. After what seemed like an eternal wait, I really wanted to bust some heads right out of the gate.
Then it's on to the new zone, which I'll cover in more detail later. As for the instances themselves, the story-to-action ratio still seems a little slanted until the later chapters, culminating in a face-to-face encounter with Minister Caudecus and the Mursaat, Lazarus. Oh, and there's another Elder Dragon, which we'll undoubtedly learn more about soon(TM).
It's a lot to throw at players all at once, and on some level you can't blame ArenaNet for wanting to kick the story into overdrive. There are a lot of hanging plot lines that need resolving, and I'm interested to know what, if any, connection there is between Lazarus and Primordus. Maybe there isn't any direct connection, and it was merely the explosion of the bloodstone that “woke” the dragon. If they're not connected, I'm intrigued by the notion that maybe players will have to actually enlist the White Mantle as allies to fight Primordus, or work alongside a deposed Caudecus who wants to rule Kryta, not see it lit ablaze (again).
Here's my primary beef with the story in Out of the Shadows, though. As someone who hasn't raided, I feel left out, like there are parts I've missed. If you know virtually nothing about the White Mantle and mursaat – which might seem strange to longtime Guild Wars fans but can't be completely discounted with how much broader the GW2 player base is than GW1's – you'll get a few dialogue lines from Canach to fill you in. That's pretty much it.
I am familiar enough with Krytan history that I didn't need Canach's refresher, but I'd like to know what events transpired in Forsaken Thicket to lead to the White Mantle's resurgence. NPCs go on at length about how we defeated Zhaitan and Mordremoth, took down Scarlet Briar, and so on, but anything that happened in the raid? Nope, you still have to have played it to get those nuggets of story information. Or you could probably watch videos on YouTube, but I could do that with any of the game's story elements. At that point, why bother playing?
It's true that other instances, such as dungeons and Fractals, don't get explained much in the open world, but they're not intimately tied to events in the primary story. ArenaNet is still doggedly set on the notion that you'll have to raid to get the full story of the game, and that's going to accomplish nothing besides turn off the less-hardcore elements of the community – the lifeblood of any MMO, no matter how much people want to think otherwise.
Fen, son of Fen
Bloodstone Fen is a challenging zone, requiring vertical thinking unlike any other in Guild Wars 2. Thankfully, unlike Tangled Depths, much of the zone is open air, making it far easier to navigate and determine where it is you need to go while still also opening up opportunities for exploration. It's great to see the spirit of innovation is still alive in GW2's zones; they just need to be balanced by practicality of their application (Desert Borderlands, I'm looking at you).
The addition of a form of aerial combat came from out of nowhere, though having to grind out content and currency to unlock all its options just seems like another form of the Mastery grind. While it makes sense for such an aerial zone as Bloodstone Fen, I hope it wasn't put in the game “just because.” Monsters that are immune to ground attacks or open-air fights with no ground to stand on are just a couple of examples of how aerial combat could have a purpose beyond just being an extra couple of buttons to push in combat.
It's a small zone, smaller even than Dry Top and the Silverwastes, though its verticality does offer more opportunities for gameplay than “flatter” zones. Also, after the gripes about Heart of Thorns' zones and their huge, timer-based meta-event chains, it's filled more with random events with little coherence. I'm not complaining, though; it was nice to just be able to drift through a zone and mess around with whatever came up. In the future, I hope we see a balance between zones like this and the big, meta-focused zones like we got in Heart of Thorns. Or perhaps a later update will give Bloodstone Fen that kind of big meta-event like the Vinewrath in Silverwastes.
It's that “later update” part that could be a sticking point, though. I don't see Bloodstone Fen as a zone that's going to keep players engaged for three months. There's very little to strive for, and the only new skins appear to be a backpiece and the light/medium/heavy Bloodstone Crowns you get for completing the meta-achievement, along with a greatsword skin in Fractals. Don't worry, though; you can always find plenty of new skins in the Gem Store!
In trying to compare Bloodstone Fen and the new story to similar releases, I thought of Dry Top and the Silverwastes. Those two zones were also a little content-light when they debuted but added more to do as time went on. The big difference between then and now is that we got those updates on two-week cadences; we'll have to wait months for any updates to Bloodstone Fen, and I worry that will be too long to hold players' attention. If this was all that could be done in nine months – because remember, raids didn't take away from other content teams – then I worry about what will get done in the next three.
It's a good bit of content, and I'll play around with it for a while, but I don't see it as the revelation that's going to get me back to playing a few dozen hours of Guild Wars 2 every week. That day-to-day “stickiness” just isn't there for me any more, and at this point, I'm wondering if it'll ever come back.