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Day of Reckoning: The Battle for Lion's Arch

Neilie Johnson Posted:
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They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and never has the adage been more frighteningly proven than through the evolution of enigmatic Guild Wars 2 villain, Scarlet Briar. Like many a mad scientist before her, Scarlet's sought facility without judgment, mastery without wisdom, and hasn't spent much time at all considering the consequences of this search. Not surprisingly—and like so many mad scientists before her—her efforts have ended in cataclysmic results.

We spoke this week to ArenaNet's writing team of Scott McGough, Bobby Stein and Angel Leigh McCoy and they explained their approach to creating the mad villain Scarlet Briar. “The idea of a Sylvari engineer seemed like a natural fit,” says McGough. “Someone not part of the Sylvari's natural leanings and not attached to their tradition. She has a serious lack of empathy which makes her a Sylvari outlier because Sylvari are very empathic.” McCoy expands upon this: “Contrary to the playable races which were defined very clearly, we wanted to start introducing outlier characters (like Rox, the soft-hearted Charr) to mix things up. Living World's focus is to deepen the characters and their backgrounds and we wanted to ask the question, how does Scarlet play against societal expectations?”

Anyone who's been playing Guild Wars 2 for the last year sees what these writers are talking about. Scarlet's not exactly interested in fitting in. Early on she was seen as an unsettling character, a wacky gear-head, zealot, or systems dilettante. (Actually, to most people she studied with, I imagine she was a lot like that anti-social coworker you hope is OK, but who you secretly expect to show up at the office one day with a shotgun.) She was a black sheep, a misfit, a natural-born deviant.

Deviance is fascinating because it lets us ask questions like, “How do we define normal?” and “What's considered acceptable behavior?” In the context of Guild Wars 2 it lets us ask, “How does a normal Sylvari girl, “turn” into a sociopath? (Or, as the term now in vogue would put it, “a person with borderline personality disorder”?) Whether we're talking about real life or an MMO, it seems we're uncomfortable with the notion that people like Scarlet are simply born, so we come up with excuses for them—they were abused, exposed to bad role-models, or abandoned. So what kind of twisted experience might have put Scarlet Briar on the road to derangement?

We know she was born a Sylvari named Ceara, that she studied with various Tyrian races: the Charr, the Norn, the Asura, and that she was selective about what she took away from each of these professional alliances. We also know that she jumped from discipline to discipline, taking what she needed and throwing away the rest and never allowed her relationships to develop any personal depth.  Beyond this, her inherently solitary and rebellious temperament made her a genius at experimentation. Scott McGough compares Scarlet's mindset to that of a video game tester: “She has a game tester mentality – she recognizes systems, she gets how mechanical things work, and then she tries to think “how can I break this?”

Along with testing the limits of her considerable mechanical abilities, Scarlet's main goal upon starting out was seemingly more metaphysical: to expand her own consciousness. She set out to glimpse the most complex system in the world—the Eternal Alchemy. She managed this, but by succeeding, lost what little she had left of the innate empathy of her race. From that point forward, she called herself Scarlet and was bent not just on understanding the world's systems (political, religious, societal), but destroying them. You could point to this one event—this expansion of consciousness—as the catalyst for Scarlet's transition from madcap to murderous. The situation's more complicated than that, however. If all it takes is talent and insight, what's to stop Taimi (or every Asura for that matter) from becoming a dangerous megalomaniac? No, beyond intelligence or aptitude, Scarlet's natural disaffection provided the fertile ground necessary for dangerous impulses to take root.

Since we met her, what Scarlet intended to do with her knowledge remained mysterious to us: her motivations even more so. We watched for months as she collected resources, built machinery and tossed probes hither and yon. We speculated as she forced alliances, Dr. Frankenstein-like, among the more seditious sub-sets of Flame Legion, Dredge, Nightmare Court, Krait, Aetherblades and Inquest, and convinced them her objectives were their own. Still, it remained hard to tell—what exactly were those objectives?

Some of them became all too clear this last week when Scarlet's forces attacked Lion's Arch. Though we've seen the disastrous effects of this invasion, and the short term goal appears to be to reduce Lion's Arch to a pile of smoking embers, in a broader sense, it's hard to guess what she hopes to gain. (In this instance, I couldn't help but think of the Alfred quote from The Dark Knight regarding the Joker, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”) So could that be it? Has Scarlet created all these mechanisms, gathered all these thralls, devised all these labyrinthine schemes just so she can watch Tyria burn?

What we do know for sure is that in the next few weeks, our months-long bout with Scarlet fever will be over—for good or ill—and Tyria will emerge either stronger, or permanently crippled. Its fate is inextricably bound to the tragic (yes, I said tragic) story of what was once a curious, highly intelligent Sylvari whose selective search for enlightenment transformed her into a monstrous parody of her race. While it's probably safe to say that what happens to her decides what happens to Lion's Arch,

ArenaNet's hinted that the consequences of this conflict could have further repercussions we can't begin to anticipate. Could that perhaps suggest there's some greater aftermath to all this violence? There's only one way to find out: be sure to keep your eyes peeled to Tyria’s horizon on March 18th for a view of what a changed world really will look like.


Neilie Johnson

Neilie Johnson / Neilie Johnson is a freelance contributor to MMORPG.com. She's been writing about games since 2005, developing games since 2002, and playing them since the dawn of time. OK not really, but she's pretty sure she's got controllers older than you. Witness her game-related OCD on Twitter @bmunchausen.