Flameseeker Chronicles: Gem store scares and lore treats in Guild Wars 2

Anatoli Ingram
A. Ingram|10.28.14

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Flameseeker Chronicles: Gem store scares and lore treats in Guild Wars 2
I heard a lot of speculation about this guy last year, but I'm pretty sure he's just a spider and not a Margonite.
It's Halloween! Well, almost. Close enough. It's always fun to celebrate holidays as an MMO fan because you can party as long as the event runs without ever leaving your house! Oh, I just made myself sad. Let's start over.

Guild Wars 2 is celebrating its third Halloween, and it doesn't seem as though evil ghosts are any more likely to let the destruction of Lion's Arch get in the way of the festivities than the rest of us are. Even though the celebration is a repeat of last year's, there's still quite a bit of news to discuss, so hop past the cut and let's see what ArenaNet dropped in our trick-or-treat bags.

"It's Holler... Hollow... it's Candy Day!"

If I don't seem as excited about this year's GW2 Halloween festivities as I was last year, it's mostly because I know what to expect. We haven't gotten an advancement in the story of Mad King Thorn (who is actually more like Jerk King Thorn, but I guess that didn't sound as cool) and his son, Edrick "Painlord" the Bloody. King Thorn continues being a piece of work whom we all tolerate for candy and hats, and Edrick is still toeing the line between mildly sympathetic and just pathetic.

When I spoke to ArenaNet recently, I was told that one of the reasons for recycling holiday content is to preserve a feeling of "tradition," similar to pulling out your box of decorations every year and putting them up around the house. I can get behind that: Halloween doodads actually suit the ruins of Lion's Arch very well, and the updated rewards are fantastic. We've got in-game loot in the form of minis, jewels to give your character a color effect, tonics, and even an outfit to earn without so much as peering into the gem store, all of which go a long way toward making it feel like a holiday. Even if they're reskins of existing items, it's still a nice change of pace and I'm not yet jaded enough to look a gift color variant in the mouth.

If ArenaNet really is going to stop the clock on holiday story advancement, though, I hope it considers turning it back to year one. Some of the original ghosts from Thorn's bloody past are hanging around in Lion's Arch this time, but unfortunately it doesn't look as if the others are available for finishing up Mad Memoires and hearing ol' Oswald's backstory. The MOBA-lite game Reaper's Rumble is still missing, as is the excellent mini-dungeon Ascent to Madness.

Blood and Madness also concentrates mostly on Edrick, who just isn't as compelling (or frightening) a character as his father. He has his moments, but if Halloween is going to remain mostly the same from year to year, I hope ArenaNet will attempt to rework the first year's event, which was actually... well, a little bit scary.

She may look scary, but she's heroically defending this tiny, frightened ghost from marauding corn.
"There is no profit in the Eternal Alchemy!"

I've said before that the gem store could use a PR makeover, and the past week only cemented that feeling for me. If you missed the hue and cry, here's the gist of it: ArenaNet sprung a massive change to the way gold-to-gem conversion is handled, and it made players very upset. I say "sprung" because this was not announced or discussed with players ahead of time, and the only mention of it was a bit in the patch notes which talked about simplifying the conversion process to avoid confusion. The trouble started when players logged in to discover they could no longer convert gold for less than 400 gems at a time.

What this would mean in practice is no more converting a little bit of gold to make up the difference on an item you already have most of the gems for, and a lot of extra farming for items that fall between 400 and 800 gems. At the time of this writing, 67 gold is required to convert to 400 gems, so an item costing 500 gems would still have a conversion price of 134 gold. A player with 300 gems in her wallet hoping to buy that same item would need to farm 67 gold and would have 200 gems left over. The charts showing the fluctuating value of gold relative to gems were also removed. Many people interpreted this -- understandably -- as an attempt to discourage gold-to-gem conversion by making it harder and less convenient to do so.

I've been very critical of GW2's gem store not because I'm completely against microtransactions but because I'm disappointed and frustrated with this particular cash shop and I see it as a wasted opportunity. ArenaNet had a chance to craft a store which would build trust with players who were already worried about how it might affect the game; instead, it feels like something we have to keep an eye on. The intent might be as pure as new-fallen snow, but intent matters very little when trust is already eroded.

The change is being reverted, but as with the original implementation of colored commander tags, the fact that it went in at all is worrying. We're left with two possibilities: Either ArenaNet isn't telling the whole truth, or it really didn't foresee how players would react to conversion restrictions given that the ability to trade gold for gems is the most consumer-friendly point the gem store has in its favor. If it's the latter -- and I actually think it is -- I believe an over-reliance on pure numbers may have been at fault. Even if most gem trades took place in large amounts, the set conversion rate would have caused a lot less furor if it had started at 100 gems instead of 400.

Not to be confused with ABBAdon, although he is a dancing queen. Young and sweet, only seventeen.
"What passed beyond in the Mists, only you remember"

On a happier note, if the fine folks running the Points of Interest livestream wanted to send at least half of the original Guild Wars veteran population into transports of joy, they probably accomplished it with the teaser screenshot they showed off during the latest broadcast. I'm not even going to beat around the bush, here: If that isn't a statue of Abaddon, I'll eat my socks. Furthermore, it looks like the exact model of statue housed in the Cathedral of Hidden Depths, except that this one and the surrounding room are in considerably better shape than the temple in Orr (they're also in better shape than my socks).

Abaddon was once one of the six gods of humanity, and he's most strongly associated with magic and secrets; magic and secrets are two of the major themes of the second living world season, to say nothing of the GW franchise as a whole. He was also the big bad of the original GW, and many of the events that define the setting can be traced back to his machinations. This worked in the past because it came together at the end of the final campaign, but I've already seen some fans voicing concerns that "Abaddon did it" will become the new "Scarlet did it" and he'll be back to convince people to do his bidding once more.

I don't think that's on the table. Abaddon is most likely dead-dead and not comic book dead, and resurrecting him wouldn't do much for the story. What we're seeing instead may be a hint at the lore which would have been found in the proposed "fall of Abaddon" Fractal of the Mists, which was the losing option in the Cutthroat Politics vote. When I spoke to Colin Johanson some time ago, I asked if we had any chance of seeing that story; while he reiterated that ArenaNet wants to preserve player choice by not implementing the losing fractal, he also said that the developers wanted to try to bring the lore to players in some form.

The winning fractal, Thaumanova Reactor, confirmed a great deal about dragon energy and ley lines as well as introducing an interesting mystery. I feel like it was overshadowed somewhat by the wave of dissatisfaction over Scarlet's character, which came to a peak at about the time she showed up in the fractal; some fans bitterly speculated that she would have appeared to steal the stage in the Abaddon fractal as well. This doesn't quite bear out because Scarlet belonged at Thaumanova, but we didn't know quite yet what her ultimate goal was or the significance of ley lines and dragon energy. I don't believe Scarlet would have shown up in the Abaddon fractal, but I do think it would have had similar significance to GW2's current story direction rather than being a straight callback to GW1.

There were a lot of reasons I couldn't hold my nose and vote for Evon Gnashblade just to get a chance at seeing the Six Gods, even though they're my favorite part of the lore by far. The main one is that I think Evon's a colossal jerk, an opinion which has only been reinforced as time and jerkhood march on. But while I saw a lot of tooth-gnashing over the election outcome and proclamations that anyone who voted for Kiel must not care about the lore, in truth I wasn't sure I wanted to see that particular story explored in a fractal. Fractals are some of the most visually interesting settings in the game, and several of them have very compelling mini-stories, but they're designed for combat first and foremost. Moreover, they're intended to be run quickly and repeatedly by skilled players, which means there's not a lot of space for lingering on lore details to nearly the extent we've seen in season two's story instances.

I'm not suggesting we're actually going to see the fall of Abaddon (although I wouldn't complain if we did), but I do think whatever the god of secrets knew about magic in Tyria might be of vital importance in unraveling what magic in Tyria actually is. At the start of the season, a sharp-eyed fan noticed that the diagram of the Pale Tree on Scarlet's wall bears a striking resemblance to Abaddon's Realm of Torment, and we saw the same layout in Omadd's machine. This suggests to me less that the Pale Tree and the Elder Dragons have some connection to Abaddon, and more that Abaddon may have molded his prison after some essential truth he had already glimpsed.

My prediction is that we're headed to the Crystal Desert, and very soon. And that I won't have to eat my socks.

What are your predictions for the upcoming living world content? Are you enjoying Halloween? Do you keep wanting to say "season two" instead of "season two, part two" because the latter sounds awkward and the break was pretty long? Yeah, that gets me every time. Commiserate in the comments, 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 biweekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every other Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at anatoli@massively.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.
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