Flameseeker Chronicles: Why Guild Wars 2 shouldn't replicate Destiny's wedge

Kasmeer, Braham, Marjory and Rox
When I look back at a year of Guild Wars 2 releases, one thing stands out to me: I really like Kasmeer, Braham, Marjory and Rox, and I'm not alone. ArenaNet's four newest iconic heroes have remained steadfastly popular in the midst of other criticism of GW2's living story. They're not universally popular -- no character is -- but you can usually count on their dialogue and characterization prompting appreciative threads and analysis. At the start of the Tower of Nightmares release, a few of my friends even linked to a forum post that theorized that Kasmeer might die (she didn't), and were deeply concerned until Wintersday came around. "ANet had better not," one of them said heatedly. "If Kas or Jory die, I'll quit."

While the iconics of the personal story and dungeon story modes, Destiny's Edge, have their fans, I've never heard anyone threaten to uninstall if one of them shuffles off to the Mists, even after a long history and a novel dedicated to their exploits. I think the main reason is that it's a lot easier to respect characters and want to be around them when you aren't left feeling like the only adult in the room.

Destiny's Edge

The reaction of Destiny's Edge to Snaff's death and the failure of the mission to kill Kralkatorrik is realistic enough. It would take a stronger bond than the one it possessed for the guild to survive something like that, and the individual members would have to be considerably more emotionally intelligent than they are. The people who make up Destiny's Edge are exceptionally competent fighters, but for the most part they aren't exceptionally competent people. Logan doesn't think before he acts; Rytlock is simultaneously blunt and easily hurt; Zojja is quick to show anger and slow to show appreciation or affection; Eir takes too much onto herself; Caithe is emotionally wounded. All of these things make for interesting flaws, and it's no wonder that the characters tend to crack at their weakest points. Logan made an impassioned decision, Rytlock felt betrayed and blew up at him, Zojja handled her grief by blowing up in all directions, and Eir compounded the problem by shouldering more than her share of the guilt, and that left Caithe to try to set aside her own demons long enough to help. And while Caithe arguably handles the split best, it's difficult to understand her teetering on the edge of returning to Faolain, who has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever as far as the story is willing to show us.

The breakup of the guild was perfectly reasonable. Watching it try to get back together was exasperating. Eir and Caithe try to make amends, but their early attempts are clumsy and indirect. The others act like brats. The issues they have with each other are legitimate, and their ire is understandable, but after seeing them interact in the game, I found it really hard to be emotionally invested in getting the band back together when the members are more nuanced, capable, and likeable on their own. Being better together seems to be mostly a matter of firepower, and it seemed necessary to have them act like squabbling kids to underscore the idea that their breakup was something that could be mended if they'd only grow up and stop doing that. It didn't help that most of the screentime went to Rytlock and Logan's tragic bromance, which kind of played out like a buddy movie sequel in which the plot inevitably revolves around a silly argument and breakup-to-make-up session.

In short, as valid as the beef that started it might have been, it's not pleasant to watch characters act that way any more than it is to watch two mutual friends have a badly behaved falling out in real life. I suspect that this was exacerbated by the fact that your character is actually placed in the role of the unfortunate other friend who has to listen to Friend A gripe about Friend B and try to be diplomatic even though from an outsider's perspective it's the Clash of the Drama Queens. Considering that all of this came about because someone died and a freaking Elder Dragon lived to see another day, it's unfortunate that the end result felt like trying to patch up a fight between wacky sitcom flatmates -- only without the comedy.

These observations are despite the fact that I like all of the characters and I was rooting for them to make amends, so I can understand how players who are less inclined to be forgiving toward fictional people found them completely insufferable. Worse, unless you've read Edge of Destiny, you're thrown into a story in which most of the group members already hate each other, with even fewer clues as to why you should want them to be BFFs.

Rox and Braham
Rox and Braham

Our current crop of iconic characters has been introduced more gracefully. Braham and Rox first showed up in Flame and Frost, and we got to see their friendship grow over the course of that arc. The relationship between the two of them has demonstrably made them happier people: Rox lost her warband, but opening up to Braham (and Frostbite) has given her support and made her goal of getting into Rytlock's Stone warband feel less like a last-ditch effort on her part to belong somewhere. Braham is introduced through his chilly interaction with his mother, Eir, and his dedication to his village; after he makes friends with Rox, we see a much lighter side of his personality.

Both of them eventually reveal that they're really sweet kids by being refreshingly sincere and open with each other and the player character. While that doesn't preclude conflict, it also makes them easy to like and to cheer for. Initial grumblings from the fanbase over Braham being an "angry emo kid" and Rox's cute looks mostly dissolved as the relationship between the two characters progressed, and at this point they're pretty popular. Plus, it's difficult to resist Frostbite's silly mandible-face.

Marjory and Kasmeer
Marjory and Kasmeer

Kasmeer Meade first showed up in The Secret of Southsun, with her childhood friend Lord Faren tagging along to try to chat her up and striking out spectacularly. It wasn't until Dragon Bash that we got to meet her business partner, Marjory Delaqua. As we gained more insight into their relationship, it became more and more apparent that Faren would be barking up the wrong tree even if he were twice as charming as he thinks he is.

I'm pretty sure that Marjory and Kasmeer are a reference to an old, old fictional trope, only subverted through a gender swap and hints at a possible romance that usually never makes it out of the realm of subtext. Jory is an eccentric genius investigator who is isolated both by her own choice and because of her uncompromising ideals and personality. Kas is her helpmate both in her work and personal life who has chosen to join the investigator's world. Considering how prevalent and well-loved reinterpretations of these characters are, I would not be at all surprised to find out that ArenaNet had also given them a deliberate nod. Even if it's not intentional, the strength of that archetypal dynamic is explanation enough for the players' interest in Kasmeer, Marjory, and their affectionate banter.

Four's company

Dialogue near the Tower of Nightmares wreckage after the most recent patch shows Rox and Braham interacting with Marjory and Kasmeer and introducing themselves to each other. The timeline is a little wonky, since they already had a chance to meet up and exchange words inside the tower itself, but I think that's just a blip caused by dialogue clips being shuffled around to where they fit best. Braham and Kasmeer seem to get along. Kasmeer and Rox don't appear to have any problems with each other. Marjory and Braham engaged in some friendly teasing. Rox doesn't seem to like Marjory much, mostly because Marjory is weird and lacks a brain-to-mouth filter.

This is a good characterization wrinkle, but I'm crossing my fingers for it to stay a wrinkle instead of progressing to a fold and then a tear. I'm hoping that it's not the beginning of a setup for a rift between the two pairs, that players won't be encouraged to take sides, and that we won't see a plotline where we're asked to choose between them for the sake of player choice or spend time getting them to tolerate one another.

If it sounds like I'm being overly wary based on a few lines of snarky dialogue... well, that's probably true. But I didn't care much for the competitive, negative choice of Cutthroat Politics, where the election was not only for which Fractal we wanted but for which one we would probably never see. I also didn't care much for watching Destiny's Edge stamp their feet and throw blame around while being frequently unreliable in important situations due to their latest snit or crisis of conscience.

Conflict between characters is, broadly, a good thing for a story as long as the writer doesn't fall into the trap of simply placing it where tradition dictates. I think I would have enjoyed the story of Destiny's Edge much more if it hadn't been mostly about how important it is for two bros who used to be real tight to rejoin each other in broship so they can whoop some butt because I've seen that movie about 60 times, only with either more jokes or more kickboxing. I'd like to see interpersonal conflict used more heavily to explore GW2's villains rather than have to take our allies through group mediation before we can save the world.

Wintersday!
Happy Wintersday!

The Flameseeker Chronicles will be taking a break next week while I recover from the hap-happiest season of all and do some important real life things. I'll be back on January 6th to ring in the new year slightly late.

Who's your favorite character in the living story? Do you miss Destiny's Edge, or do you plan to dropkick Logan into the Queen's Pavilion the next time he shows up? Let us know in the comments, and have a safe and happy holiday -- or if you're not celebrating, a safe and happy week! I'll see you in 2014!

Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's weekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at anatoli@massively.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.
This article was originally published on Massively.