Flameseeker Chronicles: First impressions of Guild Wars 2’s No Quarter

    
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Flameseeker Chronicles: First impressions of Guild Wars 2’s No Quarter

After March’s relatively lightweight release, Steel and Fire, a lot of Guild Wars 2 players were expecting something big from this month’s release, entitled No Quarter. The Charr civil war is really starting to heat up, and this episode promises to give us some of the fiercest fighting. Does this episode deliver on those hopes? Let’s dive in!

The story revolves around the all-out civil war that is now happening between Bangar’s Charr Dominion and the United Legions. Things are not looking good for the good guys, as more and more charr succumb to Bangar’s propaganda and defect to the Dominion. Rytlock’s son Ryland, now promoted to Tribune after saving Bangar’s life at the end of Episode 2: Shadow in the Ice, leads the brutal assault using masterful psychological warfare. The developers told us that they looked a lot at real world civil wars and incorporated a lot of what they learned about effects that the brother against brother, child against parent (or in the Charr’s case, cub against dam) conflict has on its soldiers. It’s surprisingly gritty and dark.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a pandemic on. While ArenaNet’s in-house teams were able to complete the work to get this episode completed remotely because of shelter-in-place orders, it was not able to get the requisite sound engineers and acting talent needed to give characters voices. I’ve seen some grumbling about this from around the community, and a common refrain is, why couldn’t the voice acting be done remotely, citing American Idol’s stunt of shipping recording equipment to contestants and having them audition from home. Sadly, this simply isn’t practical for game recording. For one, it would be a huge expense, as there are likely a lot more voice actors involved here than American Idol contestants, and the equipment you need for getting a clean voiceover is much higher end than what American Idol used. Second, voice acting requires ongoing direction from a producer, and that would be very difficult to do remotely. I think that this is the best option to keep everyone safe and to ensure the highest quality product in the end.

I’ll admit, the lack of voiceover is a little odd, especially if you’re going directly from playing a previous chapter to this one, and it takes a lot more concentration to read every word that an NPC says as it pops up briefly in speech bubbles than it would if they were read aloud. The world is far from silent, though; player characters and NPCs make various brief grunts and sighs, no doubt clips snipped from dialog from in past episodes or voice foley recorded for combat, that convey the mood of what they’re saying. It’s not as good as actual voice acting, but it’s the next best thing.

I asked Living World Narrative Design Lead Novera King what kind of effect the pandemic had on their development. “We work all the way through to release,” she said, “We had already written everything and we were just about to go begin recording when the pandemic lockdown happened. We’ve been working very closely with Audio… figuring out how to really draw attention to the emotion of the story with different audio cues.” She also noted that it gave the team an opportunity to “optimize” the ways in which dialog is spotlighted. She assured us that, as soon as possible, once the lockdown is lifted, a patch will bring voiceover to No Quarter, and the team has been working with this in mind.

Mechanically speaking, the theme of this entire map seems to be “What if World vs World was a PvE game mode?” It’s very ambitious for a Living World map; it’s the kind of thing that I feel like I’m going to keep coming back to long after this episode is over. I know I’ve been critical of ArenaNet’s handling of Icebrood Saga and its hit-or-miss delivery of “expansion-level content,” but this feels like the kind of inventive, repeatable gameplay is exactly what we’ve been missing lately.

The map meta works similarly to Heart of Thorns’ Dragon’s Stand or the Season 5 finale Dragonfall. There are two paths, one to the west, where players will have to cut their way through dense jungle, and one to the east, where players will make an all-out assault on the beaches of Drizzlewood Coast.

A lot of mechanics familiar to WvW players are present on this map. The map is broken into eight sections, and the goal is to control as many of them as possible and eventually push your way to the final conflict at Wolf’s Crossing. Each section has a central base, and players must escort their troops to break down the gates, capture the camp, and defeat the keeplord, within a certain attack window timer. Battering rams, arrow carts, and other recognizable siege weapons are available here, though they are separate versions with orange icons so as not to affect the WvW economy. Warclaws sige abilities will, sadly, not be useful here.

Once captured, troop morale can be increased by fixing up various things around the camp, and by escoring supply dolyaks to the front lines. If you’re the type of player who doesn’t like fighting on the front, maintaining these bases is definitely an important job that you can fulfil. Bases with higher troop morale are less likely to be attacked and taken over by enemy forces, and when morale is full, an assault on the next base will be launched. Every 10 minutes, United Legion Supply Drops will be distributed based on the number of bases that are controlled by the United Legions, similar to participation rewards in WvW. There is even a reward track-like system in the form of a repeatable, multi-tier achievement.

No Quarter’s Team Lead Kirk Williford pointed out that many of the keeplords will be familiar to Charr players; this is, after all, a civil war, and old friends from your personal story may have ended up pledging loyalty to the opposing side.

One interesting difference between this map and WvW is that captured bases don’t have waypoints. Wiliford said that waypoints are very Asura-themed, and the team at ArenaNet wondered “What would the Charr do to get around this map in wartime?” Their answer was the parachute drop. If a base is controlled or being attacked by the United Legions, players can spend a small amount of map currency to airdrop from a chopper into that base. Players may choose to drift all the way to the ground using the parachute, or cut the chute and continue on their glider or flying mount. It’s a small change, but somehow it makes the map feel much more like a military operation. Or Fortnite. Take your pick.

As far as masteries go, essence manipulation has been upgraded yet again. I have to hand it to ArenaNet, as frustrating as it is when we are asked to grind up masteries that aren’t useful in the game at large, at least they have been committed to making them useful throughout the Icebrood Saga thus far. Dominion Charr may drop any of the three types of essence orbs, and with the new fourth tier of each essence manipulation skill, they can be used on any enemy type, not just ones that type is weak to. Don’t worry, you didn’t memorize the rock-paper-scissors color combinations for nothing; when used against that type’s weakness, essence manipulation skills will be more effective and chain to nearby enemies.

There is also a new mastery track called United Legions waystation synchronization. At camps, there is a table called, you guessed it, a United Legions waystation. With tier 1 of this mastery, players can take from these nodes an electromagical pulse, which gives players a special action skill that stuns and slows enemies, dealing massive defiance bar damage. Tier 2 unlocks a remote charge which, as you might expect, allows players to place a bomb at a location, then detonate it when they choose. Finally, and most interesting, tier 3 is called portable waystation, which allows players to purchase an item that summons a waystation anywhere in the open world — even previous maps — that players with the waystation synchronization mastery can use. It will not work in instances such as fractals or raids, but I can see this being a boon against certain world bosses.

The two paths converge in the northernmost section of the map, Wolf’s Crossing. When the groups in both lanes reach this section of the map, it’s time for the final fight. I hope you didn’t get too attached to the tank that the Steel Warband uses in the Forging Steel instance because Ranoah is back with it, along with Nicabar supporting with his tonics from a chopper and Vishen sniping you from the ledges above. Let me tell you, it’s a lot less fun being on the receiving end of that harpoon grapple than firing it. Ranoah and Vishen must be defeated at about the same time or Niabar’s chopper will make life more difficult for you, so coordination is a must.

Of course, what would a new map be without cosmetic rewards? You may recall that with Shadow in the Ice, we got an outfit themed around the Norn Raven shamans. In this episode, players can earn a new Bear shaman themed outfit, complete with bear hood and paws. Yes, the armor is dyeable, so this may be the closest you will come to playing a Kodan, outside of a tonic. The map meta also has a chance to reward one of two new Charr-only helmets because, let’s be honest, Charr need more good helmets. Also keep an eye out for new backpacks themed after each of the four High Legions. My favorite is Iron Legion’s, which looks like a World War II era backpack radio transceiver.

It also includes not one but two spiffy new weapon sets. The first set is called Stormcaller, themed around the “legions’ first attempt at harnessing the elements to battle Bangar’s renegades.” These sleek weapon skins contain small sparks of energy pulsating within them. The flavor text also promises upgrades, so you can expect this set to get augmented next episode like the Boreal weapons from the Bjroa Marches, no doubt with ever more eye-catching particle effects.

The second weapon set is called Tengu Echo. Why are Tengu weapons a reward for this very Charr-centric map? You will just have to play the story to find out! With sweeping arcs and glowing blue gems, this is a very distinctive weapon set, which very closely resembles the original Guild Wars’ Tengu set.

No Quarter’s Drizzlewood Coast map is a really interesting twist on both WvW and traditional meta event maps that we’ve seen in the past. The lush jungle and wartorn beach is a nice departure from the icy Bjora Marches. I think ArenaNet has really outdone itself with this map, and I, for one, am really looking forward to playing it with everyone!

Flameseeker Chronicles is one of Massively OP’s longest-running columns, covering the Guild Wars franchise since before there was a Guild Wars 2. Now penned by Tina Lauro and Colin Henry, it arrives on Tuesdays to report everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see explored, drop ’em a comment!

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Greaterdivinity

THANK GOODNESS THIS IS PROPERLY ABOUT THE RACES AND NOT DRAGONS AND HOLY SHIT THIS CIVIL WAR STUFF SOUNDS COOL. I’ll keep expectations in check, but the talk about looking at the affects of previous civil wars on the populations involved is fascinating and opens a lot of potentially super interesting moments and store beats. THIS IS WHAT I WANT! Less dragons and nonsense. More racial strife and grappling with how to co-exist peacefully without the constant threat of global destruction binding everyone together. Sure, it sounds really similar to the WoW “YOU’RE AT WAR AND NOW FRIENDS AND NOW BACK TO WAR AND THEN FRIENDS AGAIN AND THEN WAR AND FRIENDS AND WAR FRIENDS?” but it hasn’t been repeated to death…yet.

On VO stuff: Grumbling is fair, but folks need to be understanding too. Not every actor may have a studio, or something they can use as a studio, set up in their homes. Yeah, we’ve seen people using closets, but there will be quality concerns given that both they and engineers will be working with sub-par toolkits outside of a recording booth. People just need to be patient, the audio will come later. We’re in a bloody pandemic, that we’re getting an update like this with the team working from home is something to cheer about on its own. Though I’m curious about this additional work on audio cues and whatnot, I’ll have to keep an ear out to see if I can spot them.

Parachutes seem cool, and I actually think that sounds more rad. Gives you more choices on where to go from rather than just plopping you down. This is a great example of lore and gameplay working together (at least in theory, we’ll see how it works in practice in a few days!) to create something new that accomplishes the same mechanical goal but makes sense within the game world.

Yay for non-combat ways to help out with the new zone, boo for more essence manipulation. I really, really, really dislike that mechanic and find it painfully uninteresting. It’s an easy way to force a grind, but damn is it boring. United Legions sounds fun though, that waystation will be great for ferrying folks around who are missing TP’s!

Overall, definitely looking forward to this. It’s a shame it’s dropping the same day as PSO2, it’s making me make hard choices on which game to play!