Flameseeker Chronicles: An honest second look at Guild Wars 2’s dragon response missions

    
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As longtime readers surely know, Flameseeker Chronicles is an opinion column, one of many on Massively OP, though this one’s about Guild Wars 2. Sometimes my opinion is going to differ from that of the current zeitgeist. You’re free to respectfully disagree with that opinion; that’s how opinions work, and that’s what the comments are for!

At the same time, writing impressions of a new piece of content on a test server can be challenging. Press and previewers are given an hour run-through, give or take, with devs, who often cheat to keep us alive or fast forward us through fights because we’re playing content designed for a larger group than is present (imagine running Drizzlewood Coast with only six or eight people, some of whom aren’t dedicated Guild Wars 2 players, and you can understand why). Then I usually try to solo as much as I can of the story and such that we weren’t shown in the demo. All of this in the span of a weekend, during which I may have other obligations. I say all of this, not as a complaint (I think ArenaNet does a great job with its press demos, and I’m always happy to be a part of them) or as an excuse but to explain how the preview process works from our end.

So what does all this have to do with dragon response missions? Simply put, I wrote in my first impressions of Truce that I liked the new dragon response mission instances, and, upon release, it seems that most players really didn’t. Even if you don’t take complaints on Reddit and the official forums into account  and there were many – this is evidenced by the fact that the community didn’t hit the recruitment goals for the Crystal Bloom in the week that Truce came out, something which I assume ArenaNet was fully expecting players to do, and the Ebon Vanguard’s recruitment, which we can assume was adjusted down significantly, passed only on the last day.

I’m sure more than one person reading my article thought I am just a fanboy shilling for ArenaNet. While I love Guild Wars 2, I assure you, I do my best to give you my fair, honest opinion, as I always have done. ArenaNet neither requests nor is given any influence over what I write, good or bad. But sometimes, when I get to see a release out in the wild, my opinions of it change. That’s why we label things first impressions here at Massively OP.

One instance of this was the Drakkar fight in the Shadow in the Ice. The world boss event seemed awesome the first time I did it with the devs, but once I actually tried it with players, it was a mess, and I don’t think I’ve seen the event completed successfully since a week or so after it launched (and even when it was new, it was hit and miss). Similarly, while I really enjoy the north and south meta events of Drizzlewood Coast separately, running them back-to-back is somewhat exhausting and not as enjoyable to me as when the event stopped at the south meta. DRMs are another case where I would like to amend my first impressions a bit after getting some more time with them in the live game, and that’s what I’m going to do today.

The thing is, though, while I think dragon response missions deserve some criticism – more than I gave them initially – I also think they’ve been given an unduly harsh judgment by some sectors of the community.

Something you may not know about me is that for my day job I am a software developer, and I make games as a hobby. As such, I think I tend to analyze MMOs from a design perspective. I think this is generally a good thing; it helps me sympathize with developers when things go wrong, applaud them when they have overcome technical hurdles, know when to call them out when they’re trying to duck behind the old “the tech for that would be too hard to produce” excuse when it isn’t warranted, and recognize that a lot of work goes into every new game mechanic, even some that appear simplistic to the player.

However, it doesn’t matter how technically impressive a new release in an MMO may be; what really matters is whether or not that release was fun and added something of value to the game. I think that with Truce, I got caught up in how clever DRMs were from a design perspective — they’re repeatable content (which I think is always a better use of developers’ time than one-and-done story instances), with tech that scales encounters to group size better than previous content, with well-implemented storytelling (if a bit thin, with an abrupt ending) — and I missed the fact that they aren’t really that fun to run repeatedly and aren’t very rewarding given the amount of work involved.

This isn’t helped by the fact that I think some gamers got a bad first impression of DRMs because of a bug that gave the bosses way more health than they should have had. I think a lot of players played this fight on the first day while this bug was active, didn’t realize it was a bug, and concluded that DRM bosses were just long and boring and time-wastey. I have to admit, though, that even after the bug was fixed, the fights do drag on a bit too long (drag-on response missions, get it?).

Additionally, challenge motes don’t actually add that much challenge. They simply put boons on the enemies and bosses (which can actually be helpful if you play a necromancer with boon corruption) and add a timer that, in my experience, a well-geared group of five competent players should have little trouble beating, even with a less-than-optimized group composition.

Those faults aside, I think DRMs do a lot right. This is an MMORPG. Aren’t we all here because, on some level, we want to at least have the option to play with others? I know I don’t want to be forced into a group every time I play, but I do like to have other people around. Sure, technically you can take other players into regular story missions, but they aren’t really designed for that. Try doing a regular living world instance with a group of five, and you will find it pretty trivial. DRMs are designed to scale to any group size, and even better, they will put together a group for you. And why should every piece of content be aimed at the high end? I’m quite happy with this being essentially a repeatable living world story. Living world stories are typically aimed at casual, story-focused players, and DRMs are no different. It doesn’t mean endgame players will never get another raid, strike mission, or fractal, but it does give casual players something they can enjoy.

Maybe these aren’t the most fun instances ArenaNet has ever put out. They certainly aren’t the most rewarding; the most unique reward is a mastery that makes DRMs easier to do, and while the faction-specific reward for the crystal bloom was a nice new weapon skin, the rewards for the Ebon Vanguard are already obtainable in other ways (the weapon skins can be bought for a trivial amount of karma in Ebonhawke and the shoulders were added with Bound By Blood and can be purchased on the trading post).

But I like what ArenaNet was trying to do with it, and I think that deserves some recognition. I hope that in the future we get similar instances that have more dynamic and engaging fights, while maintaining a difficulty curve that caters to casuals while scaling up for those who want more challenge. And honestly, even if this much lighter content is all we have to look forward to while ArenaNet works on the End of Dragons expansion, I would much rather have this than a total content drought.

While it certainly won’t go down as the most engaging content in Guild Wars history, Truce has gotten a bad rap from the community. My initial impressions of DRMs may have been more glowing than they deserved in the final public build, but I stand by my assertion that this was a pretty good release, and I like the fact that it manages to tell a good story without calling a timeout for dialogue, in a format that I can play with any group of friends who happen to be online. As I said at the beginning, you are free to disagree with me if you like. The comment section is open!

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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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

I really think they should have kept this game to like a 5 year story plan. Asking people to stay engaged with the dragon story for 10 years is wild to me.

These are two of my favorite games ever. It’s too slow a burn.

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Eamil

Sadly the way they talked about this game before release I think it was pretty clear that “dragons” was the whole deal for the entire game, and it never entered their minds that people might get tired of dealing with the same world-ending threat for this long.

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Andrew MacKenzie

I actually haven’t played a DRM yet as I am a few chapters behind after restarting gw2 a few weeks ago. But I stumbled into a group this afternoon and we were successful in downing Drakkar. Maybe they nerfed it a bit?

Anyway, my biggest mystery with Arenanet is how/why they put so much effort into these epic stories that are mostly done solo and for most people, will only be done once. It seems like such a waste of their limited resources. Don’t get me wrong… I love Living Story episodes… but at the end of the day, it’s repeatable content that gets people logging in each day and it seems DRMs are the newest flavor of that.

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SmiteDoctor

So will the community get a do over for the Crystal reward path or do we just get screwed over like the rewards from the previous Heart of Thorns event?

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TomTurtle

I likewise found myself more positive about DRMs initially than what other members of the community had expressed. But after running them on a daily basis, they quickly lost their appeal, and I mostly stopped doing them.

They would have been more salvageable for me if the rewards felt good from the get-go, not just potentially when we have all of the mastery track filled out. Though I somehow doubt even then it’ll feel good, but I could be wrong. We’ll see on that one.

I think one of my biggest design sticking points about them is how if you manage to finish the objectives of the starting event, you still have to wait for the timer to run down.

The Brisban escort event takes too long with too many stops to fight mobs that are more of a simple nuisance than anything. The Gendarran one fares better since the “escort” part never stops and you can just book it to the event area ahead of the NPC without worrying about protecting them.

Also, the Brisban boss takes too long to fight, especially with its too shortly telegraphed AoE attack that encourages you to either fight at ranged thus making the fight take longer or to attempt to drag it away only to have it teleport back again.

I can’t say I feel confident about future DRMs at this point outside of enjoying the story the first time.

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Matthäus Wey

“But I like what ArenaNet was trying to do with it, and I think that deserves some recognition.”

I would agree with that IF this wasn’t the only thing delivered to the player base. This “main feature” would have been some additional content is any other big MMORPG.

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SmiteDoctor

Call it what it is, it’s a pretty expansion content patch in WoW, except there will be 3 of these spread out over 6 to 8 months to tide over the GW2 player base until End of Dragons because the Living World team was gutted and sent to the expansion team. I came by this conclusion from watching a WP video where he discusses a Glass Door post which suggests that the Living World team only has roughly 10 people on it now.