Nearly four seasons on from the first signposts that popped up in core Tyria and the Living World has moved on substantially. We’ve battled mechanical nightmares, forged new alliances, rescued the helpless, seen off Scarlet, survived Gods, and uncovered some inconvenient truths. Guild Wars 2 finally sits at the precipice of a massive moment. Kralkatorrik, the Dragon that broke Destiny’s Edge, lies before us. Think of the team here at MMORPG as your reconnaissance scouts, as we step towards the penultimate episode of Living World season 4, All or Nothing.
Scion and Champion
After holding out in core Tyria for its first couple of years, Guild Wars 2 eventually branched out and continues to return to many of the same places fans remember from their time in the original Guild Wars. All or Nothing visits a number of these iconic areas, beginning with a return to Glint’s Lair. The teased trip back to the Priory, and a meeting with Ogden Stonehealer, finds players chasing down Aurene. Players jump into the mists and follow Glint’s scion to a pocket of Glint’s lair, neatly folded into the mists. Glint’s lair remains one of my favorite places in and around Tyria. The entire construct feels alien to the outside world and it seems more like a fortress of solitude now than it ever did. Crystal pillars arch up into the sky and the majesty of earlier visits, during Living World season 2, is appropriately subdued by a subtle change in palette and the wreckage of earlier battles.
The trials contained within this opening are not particularly testing. These seem to act more as a way to re-enforce how important Aurene is to oncoming battles. A series of tasks throw a range of opponents at players that require a little attention to Aurene’s actions and a lot of dps. Coordinating your actions with Aurene, players are asked to dodge, weave, and blast away a range of branded corruption and crystal entities. This is not particularly challenging and if you avoid any telegraphed attacks then progress through Glint’s trials is swift. These are quite obviously engineered to be completed solo, and it is no real detriment to the experience, as much of this opening sets the scene for the remainder of events. Glint’s trials culminate in a brand new Dragonsblood spear and a glimpse of Glint’s final gift. Created using Kralkatorik’s own blood, players obliterated the first spear during the Path of Fire story and t is the first hint that this episode is moving the final pieces into place. Glint’s lair only briefly appears in this episode, but any return to this location is a welcome reminder of just how strange and overwhelming the task before us is.
Moving on from this opening, All or Nothing turns towards a new front in the fight against the crystal dragon. Situated in the boundary of the game’s latest open world environment, the Dragonsblood Forge is a weapons forge, staging area, encampment, and fortress. The gargantuan underground area is constructed on an intimidating scale. It is dwarfed by areas like Draconis Mons, but still continues to evoke a sense of grandeur none the less. Amber archways and pillars surround a central smelting core, all housed under a huge domed ceiling. The engine of this operation is surrounded by rivers of molten magma that run around the core and fuse together the magic and mechanics several Tyrian races. Dragonsblood Forge seems set on reminding us about the sheer scale of the battle that lies in front of players. Alongside the visual impact of this huge hideout, the musical accompaniment that echoes through the outer corridors of the forge is a statement of intent for the rest of the episode. The choral composition that follows players as they reach the outer corridors of the forge creates a sense of scale that seems to echo around the caves that burrow beneath Thunderhead Peaks. It also adequately matches the scope of this fight. The use of a real choir, rather than synthesized samples makes an appreciable difference to my own emotional reaction at this moment. It gives the Dragonsblood Forge an ethereal, almost magic, quality that contrasts markedly with the desolate open world that sits just outside the forge.
We managed to take a few moments of Maclaine Diemer’s time to ask about the reason behind this and how the music in this particular episode helps build the world.
MMORPG: As players enter the Forge in this episode we hear a choral piece. It really makes a statement about the place and its importance. Was that the intention?
Maclaine Diemer, Composer: Absolutely. The choir is central to the entire episode, and we wanted to establish its importance early. It’s rare that the music gets the opportunity to be such a fundamental part of the game narrative rather than something designed to enhance the mood or emotion of the content.
MMORPG: Why use a real choir rather than just synthesize or sample something which could be less time consuming?
Maclaine Diemer: There are pretty significant creative limitations when using sampled choir. You’re pretty much limited to “ooh” and “ahh” and occasionally some gibberish syllables that kind of sound like words but aren’t. As I was thinking about the music, I realized I wanted the choir to be singing something meaningful and not just be a background element of some epic orchestral piece. The only way to achieve that is with real human beings in a room all singing together. There’s something so powerful about that that no sampled choir could ever replicate.
MMORPG: It’s quite the contrast to the lonely hollow sound that scrapes across the ice flows. How did you go about creating that contrast?
Maclaine Diemer: The audio and music content is always dictated by the design of the game. Luckily for us, the designers and narrative folks created this inherently complementary contrast of the coldness of the environment and the warmth of a choir. All we really had to do was fill in the blanks!
MMORPG: What does it add to the story, do you feel?
Maclaine Diemer: It adds everything! It’s at the core of the final battle and the design of the encounter simply wouldn’t be the same without it. My hope is that it will connect players even more with Aurene and her journey as a character. When Cameron Rich first approached the audio team with his ideas about incorporating a choir into his boss fight, I was immediately excited by the possibilities. It’s so nice to have people outside of the audio department trying to incorporate music into their own disciplines, and I’m very thankful that ArenaNet as a studio treats music as one of the pillars of its games.
MMORPG: How much new music did you produce for this episode compared to previous episodes in the season?
Maclaine Diemer: I’d say the total amount of new music is roughly in the same neighborhood as previous episodes, about 10-15 minutes or so. Since the choir elements were done live, however, it took much more time and effort to prepare it. I had never written anything for a real choir before, so I was extremely nervous about any potential mistakes. I’m sure I over-thought it, but I was constantly changing the key of the pieces, reworking the melodies and harmonies, and second guessing myself for weeks on end. Fortunately, we worked with some wonderful singers and it all came out better than I had hoped.