Let me get my one complaint about the story thus far out of the way immediately: the game is bad about filling you in on what’s going on. I hit this a little bit last week when dealing with what I called the second reel of a film, but this week I actually had an easier time following along… because of existing knowledge about the world. Which is nice, certainly, but you should not need to functionally be a Tyrian historian just to understand the events taking place. The full weight? Sure. The meaning? No.
The bright side, though? When you do understand all of the meaning, what’s going on is really cool. Starting with the debate about whether or not Amnoon should ally with Palawa Joko, the remnants of the Sunspears, or absolutely no one. Everyone present at the argument has a strong viewpoint, and there’s exactly one person who espouses a sensible viewpoint: “All of these choices are suicide.”
Amnoon isn’t meant to stand against the forces of the Forged. It’s not meant to stand against anything, it’s a built-up oasis mostly used as a refugee port with all of the military might of, well, corsairs and pirates. Palawa Joko’s offer of the Mordant Crescent, as unsettling as they may be to some, is a genuine offer of aid, and considering that this is a setting with lots of heroic necromancers it’s hard not to see it as a reasonable offer.
Of course, then you remember that historically, “accept help from Palawa Joko” is why he’s now in control of so much of Elona in the first place, because players had to accept his help some centuries beforehand. And that’s where it starts to get really interesting.
Accepting his help protects the city now and probably further dooms Elona. Denying all help means Amnoon will fall. Accepting help from the Sunspears means making an enemy of Joko. There’s no option that doesn’t feel like it has major consequences.
Assuming, of course, you know all of this. Otherwise, it just feels like “choose between the support of Proper Name, Other Name, or neither.” With the full weight of history, you can believe this is a major decision that will have impacts you may not see now or even in the future; the actual story doesn’t give you enough information to feel that impact.
I went with the Sunspears, for the record.
Moving on, the story has you meeting with what amounts to the local color, getting a sense of the danger that Amnoon is in as well as the delicate dance it performs to avoid being crushed. From there, the plan becomes infiltrating one of Balthazar’s Forged camps in hopes of finding the god himself and taking him out, because Elona is just the place to kill deities.
Most of the mission went all right; I had taken the time to unlock the first trait, allowing access to the Photon Forge and all that it represents. It’s a fun take on the otherwise modal gameplay of Engineer, so that’s good. It was only when it was time to infiltrate the main camp that I started really running into problems, because, well… I don’t have a full build. I have part of a build, and this was meant for a full build.
And it’s here, I think, that serves as a good place to dissect why the Elite Specialization thing is a problem. There were a lot of comments last week of “well, Elite Specs are meant to be horizontal progression,” but they’re kind of missing the mark for multiple reasons.
First of all, horizontal progression is about new options, not about new playstyles. The original Guild Wars had a good system of horizontal progression with new expansions, since every profession got new skills to use; the new skills weren’t necessarily more powerful than your existing skills, but they might fit better in your build. Elite Specializations, by contrast, represent an entirely different way to play the class, right down to even changing how you’re marked as a character.
And quite frankly, no one likes to be attracted to a new option only to be told they can’t have it. Saying “here’s a totally different way to play, but you can only do it toward the end of the game” is not actually enticing to anyone. The option should not feel like a football from Peanuts.
More to the point, the problem isn’t that Elite Specialization skills are locked behind a need to hunt down Hero Points, the problem is that even the traits are locked, leaving you significantly weaker until you can pick those up. Which is a problem when the game already has several horizontal systems in place, starting with Mastery points.
It’s not game-breaking. Really, it only became an overwhelming problem toward the end of the mission, when there was no real way to control the flow of enemies all over the place, no good way to slow the stream of deaths, and a very real sense of being low on options. But it’s annoying just the same.
The core of the mission is still cool, though, culminating in a fight against a nasty Forged siege engine and a mess of adds; it’d be more fun without the adds, but it’s still cool. Balthazar’s still not there, but that gives you a reason and opportunity to head over to the Temple of Kormir, only to meet up the the Herald against and get a face full of the Order of Shadows, the Even More Secreter Than The Order of Whispers Group. I haven’t yet fully explored the implications there, but it feels simultaneously like a nice way of tying things back and a bit of a saving throw to offer more allies.
Overall, though? I’m liking it, albeit still feeling a touch annoyed at how much of it relies on story elements you can easily bypass without ever understanding them. That, of course, is as much my fault as anything for not playing the game before now, so it’s not entirely the game’s fault… and the fact is that the game itself is still proving to be relatively fun. Mounts are still fun, the world is vibrant, and the story has clearly advanced a lot from the days of the original release.
Yes, there are still problems with the story, and yes, it’s still not my Favorite Thing Ever in terms of presentation. But when you understand the stakes and what’s going on? It’s interesting, if not personally moving. And it makes for an intriguing world to explore.
I might be having an easier time without trying to unlock Holosmith in the same breath, but the polls are the polls.
There’s no poll this week; as mentioned last week, I’m going to be spending time exploring maps a bit more and advancing the story as a secondary thing, so that’s my next main focus. Feel free to leave commends down below or mail them along to firstname.lastname@example.org; I’ll be sure to see what you’ve got to say.