Meeting fun halfway in Guild Wars 2

Lion’s Arch is gone. What’s left of our city is rubble and fire and the echoing screams of terrified survivors. The day Scarlet Briar’s army attacked dawned clear and mild; by the end the sky was choked with smoke, poison, and the silhouette of Scarlet’s massive drill ship. Thousands of people died, are dying, and will continue to die — all we can do for now is to try to save as many as we can.

Escape From Lion’s Arch is a truly impressive piece of storytelling and atmospheric set design, and I found it immediately comparable to similar missions in games like BioWare’s Mass Effect series. I’ve never really played anything like it in an MMO, and I think ArenaNet has done a wonderful job of capturing the feeling of a city under attack. It’s been a bittersweet time for fans of Guild Wars 2; as I discussed last week, roleplayers have responded to the release with a flurry of creative activity, and the general consensus seems to be that the story, dialogue, atmosphere and artwork are all excellent — if only we weren’t forced to mindlessly farm for loot! Wait, we’re what?

Fiddling while L.A. burns

Of course, you can completely ignore all of the atmosphere and story and dawdle near the Trader’s Plaza waiting for a few repeatable events to pop up and tagging everything that spawns over and over. I don’t take issue with player loot farmers; as I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy having the ability to farm for items, and this particular event has done wonders for my materials collection. What I do find objectionable is the lingering insistence that ArenaNet creating the ability to farm ruins the content for anyone who wants to do anything else.

I say “lingering” because this perception used to be far more widespread — and far more accurate — earlier in GW2’s life. It can be argued that design decisions at the launch of the game have trained us to value efficiency over anything else, and I do think that has some merit: For the most part people weren’t spam-running events in Cursed Shore immediately after launch because they liked it but because it was one of the few quick methods of gaining karma and tier six materials for Legendary weapons at the time. ANet has learned a lot since then about how far we’ll go to shorten lengthy grinds, and I believe the developers initially overestimated how willing power players would be to leisurely accumulate components for guild wars 2 gold during normal play, as well as how engaging they would find that normal play in the long run. I’ll give Ascended gear credit for helping tame the beast, but more important are the massive changes we’ve seen to both gameplay structure and how open-handed ArenaNet is with loot.

Some readers might challenge me on that, but I remember when comments about “two blues and maybe a green” reflected the best reward we could count on receiving for nearly any open world content — regardless of difficulty — and not just a sarcastic in-joke about bad luck with drops. Karma gain didn’t really pick up speed until we started getting it from dailies and monthlies, Rare quality items used to be extremely rare, Fine and Masterwork items were usually good only for vendor trash at level 80, and Champion enemies were something you fought if you wanted to spend five minutes getting vendor trash instead of 30 seconds. As the living world has progressed, gameplay has become vastly more intricate as well: Contrast releases even as recent as Queen’s Jubilee and Clockwork Chaos to Tower of Nightmares, Origin of Madness, and the current Escape From Lion’s Arch.

In Escape From Lion’s Arch we can zerg for loot, but it’s not the only option for group play (as it arguably was in Queen’s Jubilee) or an absolute requirement for getting any volume of decent rewards (which was pretty much the case with Scarlet’s invasions in Clockwork Chaos). Most events can be handled by small groups of players, and even a single player rescuing citizens and escorting them can add a significant number to the total count. That increases exponentially as more people are willing to break away and help. Unless you’re dead set on getting 250+ bags per run, you won’t have a significantly lower chance to fight enemies and steal their stuff, either, and events that aren’t scaled up to East Balthazar by having 50 or more players crowded around them are less likely to spawn dozens of annoying Elites.

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