Flameseeker Chronicles: Zola's a little cranky, and so am I

Halloween is here! OK, technically Halloween has been in Tyria for a week and a half, but Mad King Thorn is here today! By now, everyone's hit Lion's Arch and Kamadan to pick up festival masks, we've mobbed the King in the hopes of getting chosen for Rock Paper Scissors, and we've laughed at his delightfully horrible jokes. (And before you even ask, yes, the pumpkin-on-head joke still cracks me up.)

I've thoroughly enjoyed almost all of Halloween 2011 in Guild Wars. Yep, I said almost. There's a single aspect of this festival that stands out very strongly and unpleasantly to me. Follow along after the jump, and let's talk it over.

This is the part where I explain why I have some serious problems with one Halloween quest. This is a bit of a continuation of last year's discussion of the Halloween festivities, from a different perspective. It technically could have applied last year as well, but I only have so much room to work with, so we'll talk about it this year!

You see, like I said last year, this celebration is all about fun. That should be the point, and for the most part I love it. The lore, the NPCs, the stories behind the quest text -- they're such fun! The squabbling between Mad King Thorn and Palawa Joko is a source of endless amusement to me. Love it. But then you get to Don't Fear the Reapers.

Ah, Don't Fear the Reapers, how I hate you. It's not that the quest isn't doable. It's doable. I've finished it myself multiple times since it was introduced, as have thousands upon thousands of other Guild Wars players. But this is a bad quest. It's not fun -- it's a roadblock to the good stuff. As a rule, people do not go into this quest purely for enjoyment. I'm sure that there are exceptions to that rule, but for the most part it's just something we have to slog through to get to good content.

To me, that's a huge black mark against it right off the bat. Guild Wars has consistently been my favorite game for years because it's fun right out of the gate. There's no forcing yourself through a bunch of grindy, unpleasant stuff in order to finally be allowed to enjoy yourself. Heck, it's one of ArenaNet's big selling points for Guild Wars 2: The developers want you to get to the good stuff right away. It's why they put a big ol' boss battle in every starting area.

But the problem isn't just a matter of "Waaahhh, it's boooooring." See, it's not only that the quest is an unpleasant roadblock to Halloween fun. There are several other factors. First, the enforced solo play is a big problem here. It's a good thing in small doses and if done right. Tihark Orchard is a lot of fun, and the BMP is a great optional offering, especially for lore fans. Enforced solo play does not work well when you combine it with a severely hobbled skill bar (only four skills, none of which is a self-heal or hex/condition removal) and the unforgiving one-death-and-you're-out mission-style setup. Don't Fear the Reapers is labeled a quest rather than a mission, yet there are no rez shrines. If you die, all progress is lost.

Second, the stinking Bone Pits. When one part of the quest is so disproportionate in difficulty to the other six parts that even the official wiki warns people to go there first so they don't waste time, something is wrong. You're forced through a twisting path of densely packed enemies, all of which sling multiple heavy-degen hexes (again, you have no hex removal or self-heal). Twice. Once there, and once back. You can't avoid them, patrol patterns prevent you from finding any safe place to pause, and the best way through them is via pure twitch skills, tabbing to the nearest ones and knocking them down while you navigate the twists and turns as fast as you can. Wait a minute. Twitch skills during a festival? Aren't festival events well-known for causing an increase in lag in Guild Wars? Yep.

Finally, the risk vs. reward is way out of proportion. Something Wicked This Way Comes sends you into the same place with the same skill bar, but it's not so bad. You only have to navigate to a single location. When you're done, you get your XP, 15 Transmogrifier Tonics, and 50 Trick or Treat bags. It's tricky but relatively brief and kind of fun. Once you're done, you "get" to take on the Reapers quest. Rather than one location, you have to navigate the entire Underworld, visiting eight locations total instead of just one. If you make it, you receive 7 tonics (wait, less than before?) and only 75 Trick or Treat bags. Don't get me wrong; it's not greed talking here. But if my work increases by 800% and my reward only increases by 50%, something's off. It's kind of adding insult to the injury of an incredibly annoying quest.

Out of curiosity, I did an informal poll of my alliance during a busy evening, asking whether anyone actually did this quest because she enjoyed it or because she had to in order to progress. Not one single person expressed anything besides frustration for the thing. Several people actually said that they opted to skip that quest line entirely rather than put themselves through the irritation. What a waste of content!

There is a pretty big silver lining here. You see, the Reapers quest stands out so strongly because it's such a thorn among the roses, if I may be pardoned the mangled expression. The quests given by the Countess of Hakewood and the Emissary of King Thorn of Kryta are so great! They're funny, have an engaging little story arc, allow you to play with your friends if you choose, and they're challenging but not to the point of ragequit-level frustration.

Zola and her hell-hath-no-fury eagerness to get back to Kryta are fun. Open the Flood Gates of Death is one of the very few things that can make me enjoy playing as a wurm. (Not to mention, I laugh so hard every time Palawa Joko screams at his soldiers to "stop eating their fallen.") The environment inside The Mausoleum during Commandeering a Mortal Vessel is something I looked forward to all year because it's so beautiful.

All of these quests are wonderful. They're exactly what festival quests should be: a fun time with your friends, complete with great party favors at the end. The icing on this mostly wonderful cake for the year is the addition of Scarred Psyche. Again, it's got everything that's great about GW. It's a fast-paced, entertaining, and challenging group event, complete with a pretty cool Halloween-flavored skill bar. It's got a bit of Mesmer, Ele, Necro, and more, a combination that I absolutely love. The dialogue, just like with the other quests, is so funny to me. I've said before that you can always tell when the devs are having fun and cutting loose with quests and dialogue and that it spills over to the players -- we have fun when they do. This is one of the best examples of that in gaming.

In the end, the Reapers quest stands out so strongly to me because it's a sharp contrast to the rest of the Halloween festivities. There's this great party going on everywhere you turn, and smack in the middle is something that almost feels like it was created to be un-fun. I'm firmly with Martin Short on this one, but thankfully there are plenty of other options. I've got almost three more full days to soak up as much Halloween fun as I can -- won't you join me?

Rubi is a longtime Guild Wars player and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column keeps a close eye on all the events in Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. It's also the home of a weekly summary of the travels of [MVOP], Massively's Guild Wars guild. Email Rubi at rubi@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.