Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guild Wars 2 Living Story So Far - Part 1

So if you're playing Guild Wars 2, and I would image that if you're here then you are, then by now you're quite familiar with ArenaNet's experimental, and somewhat controversial methodology of rolling out their content - the Living Story.  Personally I'm a huge fan of the attempt, and it has done a pretty good job of keeping me hooked in a game that I otherwise might not have been.  But it's not been without it's share of criticism, and a significant amount of the criticism relates to the story itself.  People are saying that the story - such as it is - is difficult to follow.  It's unclear who the players are, what they're motivations are, and even if you know who they are, they're not doing very much to make you care. 

Now I for one have been enjoying the story itself.  I'm not talking about the mechanics of the changes - which could be the subject of an entirely other blog, but the actual lore itself.  And the reason is - it's about ordinary people.  The story isn't about extraordinary characters destined at birth to do amazing things, and then fulfilling that destiny.  It's about people like you and I - ordinary folks, tasked with some unpleasant tasks, and making the best of it that they can.  The other reason that I'm enjoying it so far is that it is, for the most part, a human story.  That's not to say that is has only humans in it - far from that.  But that it is based on human interactions.  Greed, deceit, betrayal, and of course, some politics for good measure - these are the notions upon which the story is being built so far.

But I will agree that the story itself has been somewhat hard to follow so far.  So to that end, I thought I'd start putting together some recaps.  A summarization, if you will, of each chapter of the Living Story, as it unfolds.

The Fall of Zhaitan
Establishing the Timeline
The living story picks up with the presumption of the completion of the personal story.  It's interesting, because most of the common world is in the "eternal now" story of the war against the elder dragons - specifically Zhaitan.  The story progresses as the player progresses through the zones, and it could take a few months, or you could play for years, but from the player's perspective, that story doesn't end until they get to level 80 and complete their personal story. This is pretty much how the central story is told in just about every MMO on the planet.  All of the zones are locked in a particular time of the story, and the story is progressed by the player progressing through the zones.

But in January, ArenaNet changed the method to tell its story, and suddenly world events began to happen in real time - regardless of the progress of the actual players.  And the events that unfold place the state of the world in a place where Zhaitan has been defeated, but the dragon's influence still remains.  Orr remains risen, and undead are still a huge threat.  It's pretty much the only way to explain playing in a world where you've defeated Zhaitan, but you still have to fight legions of undead upon the Cursed Shore.

The Guild Wars 2 timeline places current day in Guild Wars 2 around 1326 AE.  So we can assume that that is when time starts in Guild Wars 2 the game.  That is, when the player started playing the game, it was 1326 AE.  In a typical MMO, it would always be 1326 AE, because time stands still in a typical MMO, and only progresses as the player progresses, independent of normal time.  But in Guild War 2, events are now taking place in real time, which means game time must be progressing as well.  We also know that, by the time the living story begins, two holidays have passed in Tyria - the Mad King's Festival (Fall), and WintersDay (Winter).  In the Mouvelian calendar, there are no months, only 4 seasons.  They are, respectively, Zephyr (spring), Phoenix (summer), Scion (Fall), and Colossus (winter). So given that Guild Wars 2 starts in what we can assume is the season of the Phoenix 1326, and the Mad King and Wintersday events had already occurred, my best bet is that the Living Story starts sometime around the first part of the Season of the Zephyr - 1327.

Chapter 1 - Flame & Frost
I've already written a pretty thorough recounting of the events that occurred in Flame and Frost, in the form of journal entries from my main character, Syrene Harmony.  And this is why her journal entries start on the 28th of the Season of the Zephyr.  For completeness sake though, I will summarize the events of Flame and Frost here, albeit in a slightly more terse manner.

Prelude - The Refugees
The first we learn of something amiss is stories of norn and charr refugees fleeing their lands and making their way to their respective capital cities.  The norn were coming out of the highlands of The Wayfarer Foothills, and making their way towards Hoelbrak.  The charr were fleeing the heavily wooded and hilly areas of The Diessa Plateau and making their way towards the Black Citadel.  For the first part of this story, the hero is tasked with the charitable, if mundane, tasks of assisting the refugees.  Additionally at this time, new events start occurring in these regions - geysers of steam and gouts of lava and packs of elementals appearing at various locations.

The Gathering Storm - the Invaders
The stakes begin to raise though, as the situation deteriorates.  Portals begin to appear at various locations in the afflicted zones.  In some locations it is the dredge that are appearing, and in others, Flame Legion charr, and they are all armed with curious weapons fused from dredge machinery and shamanistic magic.  The players shift from the role of volunteers to defenders, assisting in fighting off these incursions.

The Razing - Braham and Rox
By now it's clear that Hoelbrak and the Black Citadel are facing a full on invasion.  One carefully orchestrated by an alliance between the Dredge and the Flame Legion - this would come to be known as The Molten Alliance.  Full on battles are now erupting across the Diessa Plateau and the Wayfarer Foothills.  Two stories emerge against the backdrop of the larger battle.

Braham asks for help
The first is that of Braham Eirsson, a norn guardian, the son of none other than Eir Stegalkin. His village of Cragstead is being overrun by the Molten Alliance.  The villagers are farmers and hunters - not warriors, and they are ill-prepared to deal with the invasion.  He travels first to Rytlock and the Iron Legion in the Black Citadel.  But Rytlock is up to his ears (all of them!) fighting off the Dredge in Diessa Plateau, and dealing with the refugees, and will not send Iron Legion troops to assist a norn village.  Braham then goes to see the leader of his own people, Knut Whitebear, in Hoelbrak.  But Knut's fighting force - the Wolfborn, are also overwhelmed with other battles in the Wayfarer Foothills, and cannot come for assistance.  It is up to the player to assist in retaking Cragstead.   The battle is a success, Cragstead is reclaimed, but at the end of the day, it's discovered that many of the villagers are simply missing - captured and taken prisoner somewhere by the Molten Alliance.  Braham vows he will not rest until he finds his missing kin.

Rox gets a mission!
The second story is that of Rox. a young charr gladium.   We don't know much about how she lost her warband - only that they were all killed in a mining accident.  She is working towards trying to get into the  warband of Rytlock himself - the Stone Warband.  After the invasion begins, it's learned that the Molten forces are attacking a devourer hatchery up near the town of Nolan, and as a test for young Rox, she is dispatched to save the hatchery.  She is advised to bring any support that she can, and so it is that the player meets up with and accompanies her.  At the devourer hatchery, the battle ensues, and the player and Rox do in fact successfully repel the forces.  Additionally, Rox saves a baby devourer, and it becomes immediately attached to Rox and follows her around the mission.  She takes the hatchling as her pet, and names it Frostbite.  Similar to the Braham's village though, it's learned that many of the charr that were working the hatchery have been captured and taken prisoner.

Meanwhile, other forces were also hard at work.  The Order of Whispers manages to get an agent into the Molten Alliance under cover. A Whispers agent - Agent Brandubh, becomes a contact for the players, and gives them a means to pick up dead drops from the undercover agent throughout Diessa Plateau and Wayfarer Foothills. Through these dead drops we learn a bit more about the Molten Alliance - that there is dissention between the dredge and Flame Legion forces, that they are using new weapons, and even creating new kinds of dredge, and they they are taking many prisoners off to something called "Weapon Testing"

Inside the Molten Weapons Facility
Retribution - Molten Facilities
Through the undercover work of the Whispers, we learn that the Molten Alliance have developed large, underground weapons testing facilities.  There are a number of them scattered throughout Diessa Plateau and Wayfarer Foothills.  By now the player in an integral part of the counter-offensive, and they are tasked with infiltrating these Weapons Facilities, rescuing the prisoners that have been taken there, and destroying them.  They are joined by Rox and Braham, who have teamed up to rescue their respective kin.

Inside the facility, the team learn that the prisoners are being used as test subjects for the experimental weapons they Alliance are developing! The party frees the prisoners, defeat two colossal Alliance monstrosities, and using the Alliance's own explosives, destroy the facility.  Rox and Braham make for a likeable duo - and throughout the dungeon there's quite a bit of good natured banter between the two of them. When it comes time to set the explosives, Rox makes it clear she'll have nothing to do with that part of the mission - no doubt a reference to the mining explosion that killed her warband.  But she has plenty of lock picking and engineering skills, and experience in dealing with the dredge from her mining days.

Braham has his work cut out for him
with Ottilia
Braham is, true to his norn heritage, brave and brash to a fault. One interesting little side story regarding Braham though, we learn of a would-be love interest for him.  One of the prisoner's he rescues is named Ottilia, and he's quite glad to see her.  She is no maiden in distress though, rather in fact taking charge of helping the prisoners escape when Braham encounters her.  Braham mentions her again in his thank-you note to the player, and if you travel to Cragstead now, you can see some interesting interactions between she and he. It is also clear that relations between Braham and his mother Eir are estranged, at best.

With the weapons facility destroyed, the Molten Alliance's back is broken, and the remaining forces are quickly defeated.  But there is rebuilding to be done, and hundreds of settlers and refugees are still displaced.  Some return to Cragstead and to Nolan, but many others are still looking for assistance.

The Consortium has an offer..
And it is here that an unexpected benefactor steps in.  The trading company known as The Consortium sets up a camp in Lion's Arch for the refugees.  It turns out they are still trying to back the bet they made in Southsun Cove, and are willing to offer the refugees a deal: good work, decent pay, and a place to live, in return for assistance in quelling the slight wildlife problem they are dealing with as they attempt to convert the untamed wilderness of Southsun into a vacation paradise.  It turns out both the Consortium and the refugees are getting more than they bargained for, and it is here that the events of Chapter 2 of the Living Story pick up, and Chapter 1 comes to a close.

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