The Living Story in Review

As we’re moving into the final phase of the final phase of our second installment of the Living Story, I thought I would take a few minutes to take a step back and review what we’ve seen from this experiment, and what we have learned. It seems that ANet is really trying to make this content work, and since it is new territory for both them and us, they are trying different things out. We started with a 3 month long series, Flame and Frost, and are about to finish the 3-ish week long Southsun arc.

Flame and Frost

Our very first taste of the Living Story (LS) came about at the end of January. Not knowing what to expect, it was kind of exciting to get some new content to do in low level areas. We were given several new achievements, and some new NPCs to interact with in Wayfarer Foothills and Deissa Plateau. Following down the path they formed, we would become familiar with the main areas of interaction for the future parts of the LS. Once we completed speaking to refugees however, there was little else to do. That would quickly become the theme of the F&F portion of the Living Story.

Almost a full month after the beginning of F&F, we received the second stage of the story. During the first month it seemed as though a flurry of activity rushed in, and then immediately died down when people finished their achievements. The second stage added new mechanics to the zones, spawning portals for dredge and charr to attack from. Also added was the first part of a small scavenger hunt. Once again, these events were quick to chew through, and then most people felt little incentive to stick around. I enjoyed changing up the spawn patterns in the zones, and I enjoyed the concept of the scavenger hunt, but it was over quite quickly.

Once again, a month passed without update. At the end of the month was the third installment of F&F: The Razing. 2 more items were added to the scavenger hunt, and we were introduced to a couple new heroic NPCs, Braham and Rox. Of note, we got some new cutscenes in the original GW1 format! While I would have called the scenes in GW1 wooden, I still find that I liked them more than the talking silhouettes in GW2. I like the silhouettes for some of their expressiveness, but I think a bit more of the old-school style is really nice, especially since they turned on the ability for the facial animation to occur outside of silhouette mode.

Additionally, ANet added some new Fused Skins. On the one hand, I really liked that they had a distinct visual style, one that was very iconic to the aesthetic of the F&F story, much like the SAB skins. On the other, they put them in solely behind black lion chests, and at what seemed to be a pretty rare drop rate. Again, I don’t have any numbers to look at, but I hate when the only way to get skins is from cash-shop gambling. Some people reportedly spent 50-100 keys and still didn’t get a skin. I flat-out refuse to participate in such systems. While I don’t mind BLTC Chest exclusive skins, I want at least to be able to sell/buy them if others get them, and I would also like a set of non-chest skins that are different. Halloween did this perfectly. The scythe skin was only from BLTC, but the Crossing, Arachnophobia, and Mad Moon weapons were craftable from exclusive event materials. Further, the scythe could be bought and sold on the TP, which is the only reason I have one now on my necromancer. While I really like the ticket system for picking the skin you want, I hate the randomness and account-bound nature of it. We’ll see how things go in the future.

Finally, another month later, F&F: Retribution came out to conclude the Living Story. Now to the meat of the F&F! A new dungeon! Surprisingly, the single most engaging part of the Living Story only lasted 2 weeks, instead of the previous 4 week schedule. The Molten Facility was honestly one of the absolute best dungeon experiences I have had in GW2. I would love for there to be more modeled after it. It was long, but not too long. It had several interesting mechanics, most notably having bosses that you had to actually jump over some of their attacks. The bosses at the end Voltron’d after one of them was defeated, which was awesome. There were unique crafting materials found there, and unique insignias that I hope will see a come-back sometime soon. Finally, there was a very unique back skin with an incredibly low drop rate. Somewhat too low if you ask me, given that it was consistently selling for > 100g, but at least there was a chance.

 

Overall Impressions

I thought the F&F was a good starting point, but didn’t quite go far enough. The content came out at a snail’s pace. Most people did everything there was to do for the month in about an hour or less, then never went back until the next month. Worse was the fact that people realized that the content was slow, so many simply didn’t do any of it until the last update. However, I have to say that I am extremely glad that none of it was one-time-only like the Karka event. While the content was limited to the LS timeline, you could do it at your leisure, which I think is the best way to handle things like this. So far, lesson learned.

The most exciting thing for me about F&F though was that it revitalized several zones that were rarely used. Once players go up to higher levels, many never return to low level areas, leaving many zones feeling empty and dead. It’s unfortunate, because some of the most beautiful areas are the low and mid-level places, but the rewards just aren’t there for more hardcore players.

My biggest disappointment with F&F, aside from its very drawn out execution, was that it didn’t leave a permanent mark on the world. While I understand and appreciate that they want the content to be unique, I would love to see some permanent changes left in the wake of the events. Something kind of like a meta-story to show that content happened. Lion’s Arch already did this when the Mad King burst out and destroyed the lion. It was gone for months, and was slowly built back up. I would love to see some destruction, or some changed spawn patterns left behind in an area. Perhaps the destruction of the Molten Facility scarred the landscape, or perhaps it unleashed some underground dwellers into the shiverpeaks. Regardless, it would be awesome for players who miss out on these events to be able to see their after effects and say “Woah, what happened here?” That might prompt them to investigate, and stick around for the next part of the LS. I feel that some permanent(ish) change would really sell this idea.

Secret at Southsun

Right on the heels of F&F, and in fact tying into the concept of settlers being displaced, we launched right into the next chapter of the LS. I’ve always said that Southsun seemed like a wasted opportunity after the Karka event. It’s a gorgeous zone, there was just simply nothing to do there besides mine the rich Ori node while it was there. I always felt that if they added some new DEs, and maybe some rewards there that people would at least take some side adventures there. Lo and behold, it appears ANet agreed.

The Secret at Southsun began just two weeks ago now, and it’s looking to conclude in maybe one or two more weeks. Sporting a tropical theme, the story picked up right where the F&F left off, with droves of displaced Tyrians looking for a new home. As soon as the update hit, those people familiar with Southsun noticed the changes immediately. There were several encampments built up that previously did not exist, and a whole host of NPCs at them. There’s even a beach that puts you into your “swim suit” automatically, which I thought was a nice touch.

The real meat of the update though, in terms of game impact, was 2 back pieces that could be attained via achievements (nice!), and most importantly, the Southsun-exclusive bonuses. Speaking to a Consortium or Settler Representative would give a 24 hour boost to Gold or Magic Find of a whopping 200%, so long as you stayed in Southsun.

Now, this is a very interesting tactic. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I kind of like it. On the one hand, I abhor Magic Find (MF) as an armor stat, especially in group scenarios. On the other, I think this buff is a fantastic way to encourage players into a zone, especially with the vastly increased chance of getting precursors due to outrageous MF. Due to the fact that it’s an NPC buff, there isn’t anything that it conflicts with. There is no “but you could have X more power, or Y more condition damage”, just a buff you have in that zone. Personally, I think it is something that ANet may want to seriously consider adding as a permanent fixture to whichever zone is hosting the LS of the month. That kind of MF can truly encourage people to stick around in what would otherwise be completely non-optimal areas to make headway economically.

As I alluded to earlier, this event has been over the course of one month. This is actually the perfect amount of time I feel. Where I just slacked off and did most of F&F in one evening before, I actually felt the pressure to go in and make sure I got a piece of the action at Southsun. The backpieces are awesome, there is a lot more activity both with players and events going on, and of course, that enormous buff. Prices have dropped 30% or more on several rare materials, putting them much more in reach of players that are more casual.

 

Moving Forward with the Living Story

The living story has some real promise. If ANet is serious about pushing this model, they have a few things to learn, but if the progression from F&F to Southsun has shown anything, it’s that they are willing and able to see what works and adapt. If they can truly pull off a feeling of a world that constantly changes, and find ways to herd the playerbase back into older zones, it will be a thing of beauty. During the Beta weekend events, ANet wrapped up each weekend with some really amazing, zone-changing effects, and they were awesome! Reportedly, they didn’t even take that long to do some of them. I would love if they could introduce some of these things back in again to the game. Just imagine how crazy it would be if the Claw of Jormag flew down one weekend and started dropping corrupted ice crystals into Charr territories. Imagine if the Inquest invaded Gendarran Fields, and players had to man Golems to fight them off. Imagine if some of the terrain permanently (or semi-permanently) were altered by the events of the Living Story.

In my mind, their best bet is to make these arcs tight, in the one month range if possible. They need to make some indent so that people who missed out realize that they actually missed something. They need to create incentives to stick around in the LS zones after all the “quests” are completed. They are on the right track, and I for one am excited to see where they are going.

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