Flameseeker Chronicles: Life in the legions

http://massively.joystiq.com/2012/03/27/flameseeker-chronicles-life-in-the-legions/
Last week, Leif Chapelle, a content designer, took some time to update the ArenaNet blog with a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at personal story in Guild Wars 2. He sketched out the structure of how players' biography choices affect their storyline: "To experience every potential storyline being told from level one to 10, you'd need to play the game 30 times (five races times three initial storylines times two internal branches in each storyline)... We have 80 levels of progression for your character, and every 10 levels or so, you'll begin a new chapter in your story."

To someone who has rolled a seemingly endless string of alts in virtually every game I've played and is extraordinarily trigger-happy when it comes to remaking characters, this shows a great deal of promise. I'm sure it's quite an angstilicious idea for people who want to savor ALL THE STORY, but I hope that such types might admit (however grudgingly) that too much story is a better option than too little.

This is, of course, a rather massive deviation from the flow of the storyline in the original Guild Wars. Aside from the different initial quests for separate professions and modified storyline entry for characters crossing over between campaigns, about the best you could do to affect your storyline was to choose Jin over Sousuke or any of the other hero-based story branches in Nightfall. Even those only altered the story for a mission or two before setting you back on the main path, and nothing was stopping players (indeed, the promise of unlocking heroes encouraged them) from going back after the storyline was finished and exploring the roads not taken.

I have to think that the change is all to the good. Not only does it greatly increase the fun factor of replaying the game and rolling alt characters, but having a storyline that actually responds to the user makes the content that much more compelling. ArenaNet devs have said again and again that they want the story to be engaging, that they want decisions to have weight and consequence. Players should feel invested in the storyline, and unique and tailored content is a very direct path to that result.

One factor that will hopefully soothe the fears of those worried about all the content they'll be missing out on is that as far as we can see, there's a more or less unified ending. While decisions you make have definite impact and demonstrable weight, they won't necessarily lead to situations in which you'll be getting the green ending rather than the blue one. Zhaitan isn't going to end up defeated for one person and go on to rule the galaxy with an iron fist in someone else's story (-- or is he?). I tried to get content designer Mike Z to talk about that a little more, but he just started joking about Zhaitan riding off into the sunset. Apparently we'll have to learn more about how things sort themselves out on our own.

Anyway: unique storylines. Yeah, that's where we were.
Let's take a look at some of the very early Charr experiences. Over the weekend, I rolled (among many other characters) three Charr who were identical except for their profession (I'm not such a glutton for punishment that I want to unlock the exact same set of skills back-to-back-to-back) and legion (Blood, Ash, and Iron). They were all ferocious daughters of a sorcerous shaman, and their best buddy was Clawspur the Thief. These ladies all went through the first couple of personal story quests in order to compare their experiences.

Each character's story starts in the same place: the tutorial or start area, which is shared by all members of a race. For a Charr, this is the defense of Smokestead, where you, your warband, and a whole pack of NPCs are busy trying to fend off very angry ghosties. It culminates in a fight with the spirit-powered statue of Duke Barradin, and from there we see individual stories branching off.

Guild Wars 2
As a Blood Legion Charr, you'll be thrown almost directly into a confrontation with your higher-up, the Legionnaire Urvan Steelbane. Despite being the one calling the shots, he's somehow displeased with the way you handled the defense, and he throws waves of other Blood Legion soldiers at you in order to convey his displeasure in a cool, professional manner. After he discovers that killing you evidently isn't a viable option, you're sent on a supply run, the dullest of all demeaning tasks to be assigned. At the supply point, however, you find not a stack of nicely ordered crates and knapsacks but a Flame Legion recruiter asking a fellow Blood Legion female "Why fight for Blood when you can cook for Flame?" and threatening to kill her when she declines. After a healthy scrap during which you help your new friend, Elexus Shredskin, tell the recruiter precisely what she thinks of his offer ("Have a steaming hot bowl of death!"), she joins your warband, as the members of hers all turned tail to join the Flame Legion. Legionnaire Steelbane isn't the most understanding fella and reacts predictably poorly to your failure to retrieve supplies. When you tell him that you're sick of his crap, you get tossed into a handy nearby gladatorial arena to prove you're worthy to challenge him. Within the arena, you'll fight a few Charr gladiators, a champion, and a freakin' huge devourer before finally going claw-to-claw with your bossman.

Playing an Ash Legion Charr starts your story off in a more congenial manner. Tribune Torga Desertgrave is pleased with how you comported yourself at Smokestead and wants to talk through considerations of your future within the legion. You're promoted to legionnaire and are just getting to the juicy details of a Flame Legion infiltration of the Black Citadel when the truth of that infiltration is proved by Flame Legion foes pouring in from all sides. It's a tidy fight, but the combat is actually secondary. As Desertgrave points out, your real interest should be how the Flame Legion scum managed to get into a city that's so openly hostile to them. Most Blood Legion members wouldn't really give that a thought, but you know better, you clever Ash soldier. With that in mind, you mosey on over to a tavern to meet a contact, then spend some time in shady pursuits like sneaking around, peeping at keyholes, and assassinating the heck out of some Flame Legion. Peeping at keyholes lets you know the password to get into a Flame Legion camp, where you discover a plot to throw the Blood and Iron Legions into disarray. After a little more judicious slaughter, you rescue Yhuk Fellstrike, whose warband was killed for the information necessary to drive Flame's plot forward, and start hatching up a plan to block the Flame Legion's machinations.

The Iron Legion plays home to the engineers and inventors who drive the innovation of the Charr warmachine, and as a shining example of that lot, your Iron Legion character has evidently been devising new anti-ghost weaponry in his or her spare time. When you first meet with Goreblade, your Tribune, after the defense tutorial, he mentions that Iron Legion is looking for a way to end the ghost problem -- and you volunteer your invention-in-making, the Ghostbore Musket. In recognition of your potential brilliance, Goreblade promotes you to acting legionnaire and tells you to get cracking on it. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you bound off to retrieve your plans -- but wait, what are all those Flame Legion scallywags doing in your barracks? Dozens of them are pawing through your stuff, and you and Clawspur fight wildly to protect your weapon plans. After securing the plans and routing all the infiltrators, you push on toward your goal and head to the scrapyard to salvage some parts. There, you're bothered once again by Flame Legion and once again refuse to be deterred from the creation and testing of your weapon. Luccia Wildeye, who apparently has the early shift at the scrapyard, proves herself useful enough that you ask her to join your crew. She can whip up a fierce cannon on demand, evidently, and such talents might be useful. The moment of truth draws nigh: It's time to test out your invention!

That's all just in the first four levels for each legion. These storylines all do an excellent job of establishing the character of each of the legions that players an belong to. What's more, they don't seem to only run parallel to each other. It makes sense that if the Flame Legion have infiltrated Ash Legion headquarters, they'd probably have found a way into Iron as well. If you're playing with a buddy belonging to a different legion, I hope it'd continue to work out that you can see where your storylines almost touch, and how the legions interact. I was a little apprehensive, going into this, that a lot of "unique" content would be found by changing the names of mobs and little else, but those fears have been pretty thoroughly dismissed. Not only do you have wildly varied objectives focused on different parts of the overarching story, but those are being carried out in fitting areas while surrounded by distinct NPC personalities. Everything I detailed was leading up to your first decision, so things can only get more customized and engaging from here.

Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at elisabeth@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.