Flameseeker Chronicles: The calm before Guild Wars 2's next release

Anatoli Ingram
A. Ingram|01.21.14

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Flameseeker Chronicles: The calm before Guild Wars 2's next release
Twisted Marionette (ArenaNet official screenshot)
It has come to my attention that the title of the latest Guild Wars 2 release is not GIANT KILLER LADY ROBOT. It's actually titled The Origins of Madness. "GIANT KILLER LADY ROBOT!" is just what I yelled after seeing the Twisted Marionette world boss because I can't think of many things cooler than that, and now we're going to have one right here in our very own GW2.

Apart from the presence of the Twisted Marionette and jungle wurm world bosses, ArenaNet is keeping the content of this release tightly under wraps. Not that I blame it; with Scarlet Briar's story arc ramping up to a finish, it wouldn't do to let too many details slip.

Transform and roll out

For those who haven't been following along with the living story, here's a refresher: Our giant killer lady robot has its origins in the Queen's Jubilee release, when Queen Jennah unveiled her watchknights and presented them as a gift to the people of Kryta. They were neat-looking, they were beautifully designed, and they brought to mind classic images of female robots like the replica in Metropolis. As with most things, though, context matters a lot, and good intentions don't excuse unfortunate connotations. As impressive as the watchknights looked -- and even though they were ostensibly commissioned by a female character -- they were disposable tools of entertainment without any personality or autonomy that were bafflingly designed to resemble a nude woman in high heels. Why was so much effort put in to making them ornamental (down to artistic scrollwork on their metal skin) when their sole purpose was being beaten down to their component parts and exchanged for items? Maybe if Jennah had intended to test them through combat with adventurers and then send them out to protect places like Nebo Terrace, it wouldn't have been so creepy, but as far as the story explained things, they were just punching bags. The idea of female mechanical knights is potentially neat, but the "knight" part never really materialized.

Of course, it seems clear now that the watchknights were always intended to be an iconic part of Scarlet's army in the form of twisted nightmares, and their presence in Divinity's Reach seems to just be an origin story that didn't fully click together. In many ways, I think Scarlet did the watchknights a world of good; it was satisfying to watch the robots transform into razor-edged, sharp-toothed (but still noticeably female) monsters and turn on their masters. The twisted nightmares are one of the most awesome enemy designs I've ever seen in a video game, and the moment they were revealed in a cutscene I felt like applauding.

The Twisted Marionette retains the basic shape of the original watchknights, but Scarlet has as usual put her own spin on it. It's still monstrous: The eyes glow, it's massive, it's patched together from metal plating, it wields a jagged knife instead of a polearm, and even the high heels take on a weaponized aspect, since now they're big enough to impale you. It feels very much like a reflection on Scarlet as a character and a way for her to thumb her nose at Kryta in particular. She not only corrupted Jennah's forces but improved on the original design to make it bigger, better and deadlier. No matter what form the watchknights take from here on in, I think it's safe to say that Scarlet has succeeded in making them hers.

Jungle wurm (official ArenaNet screenshot)
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go fight wurms

How do you address a polycephalous wurm? Is it a wurm? Are they wurms, pural? Is it safe to refer to them as "a wurms" as on the official wiki page, which is not only descriptive but inexplicably delightful? Bree is going to have to weigh in on this one. [Ed: How about "the wurmnitude." -Bree] Furthermore, is a jungle wurm a plant or an annelid (they do have segmented rings)? Is the term "plannelid" real, and if not, can we make it real? If we're going to be investigating alongside the Durmand Priory, I think it's important for us to establish these things right off the bat.

We haven't heard much about the great jungle wurm's fight mechanics, but we do know that it's old and big and similar to Tequatl 2.0 on the meanness scale. It has three known heads located in different areas of Bloodtide Coast, and while we won't have to defeat the wurm to progress the story, we will have to fight it. I worry somewhat about the logistics of a bunch of people who don't necessarily want to be there gathering to get wurm hunt credit while others are attempting to take it down, but at the same time I'm glad that the boss figures into the plot. While we won't yet be told the true purpose of the mysterious probes, having them wake something up as a side effect is a good way of bringing attention to them without making it look as though Tyria suddenly sat up out of its post-Wintersday, eggnog-induced stupor to collectively say, "Hey guys, has anyone noticed these huge zappy things that all but have 'PROPERTY OF SCARLET BRIAR' scrawled on them in red paint? Because those might be important."

Lots of research has been done on the layout of the probes and plenty of speculative commentary written on what they could mean. One popular theory is that they might be placed along ley lines to either draw magic from them or disturb them, although that doesn't account for their presence in World vs. World. Some people are annoyed that we're getting another wurm-centric world boss despite already having one that regularly spawns in Caledon Forest, but all I can say is that if the wurm in Bloodtide Coast is in any way similar to the one in Caledon, it may be more interesting than people would expect.

In closing, I have it on good authority that "plannelid" has been approved by a representative of the Durmand Priory for official use in reference to jungle wurms. That representative is absolutely not me.

Teaser image from ArenaNet official Facebook page
Scarlet this, Scarlet that, I'll put on my Scarlet hat

It will be very difficult for me to discuss Scarlet in any detail because I now know more about her than what's been officially revealed, and I'm not about to start handing out spoilers. A while ago, I wrote about the negative player reaction to Scarlet and how I think ArenaNet could have handled her better; some of the issues are things the developers have already taken note of, and others I feel are no longer applicable (I want to go on record here as having been wrong about the "Scarlet should have been an Asura" thing).

As Colin Johanson noted, I do think players would have been less hostile to her from the beginning if a great deal more of her characterization had been handed out earlier and inside the game itself. Resentment toward the character mostly gathered steam at points where her abilities seemed at odds with the established logic of the game world with little or no justification. Sometimes explanations were forthcoming later in response to direct questions from players, such as when Angel McCoy described how Scarlet won over the Dredge and Flame Legion on the official forums; while these tidbits are interesting and greatly appreciated, they don't always suffice to create suspension of disbelief. As fewer elements of a story appear to click together naturally, the more nitpicky and unforgiving audiences are likely to be when things are glossed over and handwaved.

Despite that, I fully believe that Scarlet still has the chance to be an engaging villain. ArenaNet's writers have put a lot of thought into her, and since the writers are concentrating on story in these "season finale" releases, I hope the implementation of the character can do more justice to the concept. Her motivations and her actions will make better sense in the end because the story is also, in the end, much bigger than her alone. If one thing could have made Scarlet's character arc better, it might have been finding a way to spare her the burden of carrying almost the entire plot up until the final act, but if the four upcoming chapters are handled correctly, I think people will be more likely to remember the end than the rockiness of the beginning.

Watching people go wild with speculation has been the best part of these past few weeks for me. As soon as the trailer hit, the fandom exploded, which was pretty gratifying and made me feel all kinds of warm fuzzy things. The break has been good for the players and for GW2, I think; it's been just enough time to cool our heels, reset any lingering burnout, and remember all the good things about having content updates every two weeks. A storm is rolling in, and only time will tell if Tyria manages to weather it.

Was that too dramatic? Yeah, yeah, OK. Are you looking forward to the finale of the Scarlet arc, or are you still skeptical? What do you think we'll find out? Are jungle wurms vegetable, animal or mineral? Let us know in the comments below, and I'll see you in the Mists!

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.
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