Yesterday I was able make portions of the first and second closed beta runs for Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns. I decided rather than try and take in everything in those short two-hour sessions I would laser focus on one thing. The Itzel meta–event chain in northeast Verdant Brink caught my eye, and that is what I did pretty much the entire time.
Each Outpost in the beta had an attached meta-event. The southeast Outpost seemed to be dealing with a Vinecrawler from what I heard in map chat. The Itzel outpost dealt with the hylek (frog people) issues. These meta-events provided a complete story. I will describe the Itzel outpost story in detail below so SPOILER alert. Skip to the next section to remain unspoiled.
The event chain starts with clearing Mordrem trolls and friends from the Itzel village. There are Itzel bodies all over the ground, and the homes of the village are empty. Once the Mordrem trolls are cleared the village kind of “wakes up”. Players have to grab bug snacks for the starving Itzel and their empty larders. Fruit bats are the enemy. Once the squeaky village gets its bug grease, the Itzel starts sending out hunter packs on hunts to further fill the village larder.
In one hunt of three, we started hunting boar until we had enough (the event meter filled). Then raptors appeared, and we were told that this was better game to hunt. We filled our bags with dead raptors (the event meter filled), and huge dinosaurs that loved to ram people appeared. If all three hunters die the hunt is over, and the meta-event larder meter gets filled a percentage based on how well each hunt advanced. The first try we had to do 4 hunts with a cycle of the three and then repeat the first. The second time we had to do 5 hunts, I believe.
Astute players will see that there are red frogs (Zintl), different in color and build from the tree frog Itzel, standing along the paths that the hunters use. There are black eggs by the Zintl, and an Itzel will walk up and be told by the Zintl to take the egg for their food source. There was definitely a feeling of wrong. Players are helping the Itzel be self-supportive with hunting the jungle, while the “other” Itzel just take food for free.
Well it turns out those were baby wyvern eggs, and a mama wyvern comes and burninates the village at the end of the hunt. Some of the eggs hatch into pocket raptors (placeholders?), and the event becomes a frantic dash to put out fires while not getting burned by the wyvern strafing overhead. The Itzel lose hope and start to follow path towards their holy place to mourn, but the Zintl – the bad red frogs – are along the path trying to convert the tree frogs to worship the Sun God. They claim the Itzel god of the jungle, Ameyalli, was weak, which is why the wyvern attacked. The Sun God would’ve protected them though.
Of course the players’ job is to get in the way by supporting the Itzel’s belief in Ameyalli and killing the red frogs who get mad at the interference. This culminates in the Temple of Ameyalli where a Zintl sermon is being held. I must pause here to say that the voice-over for the Zintl proselytizer was fantastic! It was chilling how forceful and well written it was. The only way I know how to combat such a thing is throw rotten fruit during the sermon. This disrupts the sermon, and we had to kill more Zintl.
Finally a Nuhoch (bullfrog) enters stage right and explains the whole thing for late arrivals during a peaceful escort event. The Nuhoch also comes up with a plan to give the Zintl a taste of their own medicine. Of course it is the intelligent players, not the trusting Itzel tree frogs, that have the capability to help this devious plan. The Itzel frogs are told by the large Nuhoch to go back the village. He has all the help he needs now, thank you very much, tree frogs.
We go to some cliffs to gather wyvern eggs for the Nuhoch because the wyverns are out hunting during the day. After loading the Nuhoch up with eggs, the eggs are planted in the Zintl outpost, and then a wyvern comes to burninate all the Zintl. I heard that this leads to an actual wyvern fight, but I didn’t personally get this far.
It Get’s Easier, Kid
The biggest complaint I saw was that the Itzel village was confusing. It is a labyrinthine tangle of treetop bridges and huts. I felt it was beautiful and organic. However, I did fall to my death multiple times trying to shortcut the paths. The three events of the chain happen here including the opening two. Even the third event where I had to follow the hunters out to more open hunting grounds was difficult because finding the hunters in the tangle of the treetops was confusing.
The second time I did the event I had hang gliding unlocked, and it was so much easier to navigate the village. I could just jump off where I wanted haphazardly and glide to my destination. There were also jumping mushrooms all over the village, and I tested it out at the end of the second session. It also made traversing the Itzel village much easier. The jumping mushrooms got me to a high place, and then I could glide to wherever I wanted.
I found the wyvern egg cliff event probably the most telling in terms of game mechanics. In this event players have to bound up 50-some steps to get up a cliff face to steal wyvern eggs. All along these steps are poisonous mushrooms that do the barest damage. However, once a player has a wyvern egg in hand they cannot take any damage from the poisonous mushrooms, falling, or the egg guardians (griffons?). Going down the cliff face without taking any falling damage or hitting a poisonous mushroom is a painstaking ordeal.
However, I had gliding. So I just grabbed an egg and flung myself over the cliff face. It turned a minute long, ultra-risky ordeal into something very easy. Getting up the cliff face would also be easy if I had jumping mushrooms unlocked at that point. The Nuhoch at the bottom acts as the event trainer telling players that if they had mastery of the jungle getting the wyvern eggs would be easy.
This isn’t the case of trivializing content. Clearly the wyvern egg grab was designed with the belief that players should be doing the event with masteries unlocked. It’s just that the event is doable, in a pulling teeth manner, without masteries. I like that “show don’t tell” guidance to work on masteries.
Staging and Player Focus
I thought the Itzel outpost story and the event chain were amazing. What I felt was missing – hopefully able to chalk it up to “beta” – was the activity not in the meta-event focus. The village didn’t feel alive unless an event directed it to be alive. The skeleton of the outpost was intact, but the only meat seemed to be the main event.
This seemed to be the other big negative feedback point I saw. Is Verdant Brink just this entire meta-event leading to nightfall? Will a player have fun and activities to do in the map if they don’t want to push forward with the meta-events? There seemed to be little downtime in the map. It felt like a combination of Dry Top’s timer with Silverwastes’ fill meter in that we only had so much time to fill the meter to get to the “end event”.
I was a little emboldened in that one time I was the only player at one of the events. It scaled very nicely even as two more players joined me. I hope that with these chains a lot of the events can be soloed or done by a couple players, and then when things culminate to a wyvern or boss fight, the map as a whole can focus. Call the idea “prep landing”. Given the rough idea of the size of Verdant Brink it feels like there will be 2-3 more Outposts, and if each has a meta-event chain that’s a lot of active events to push forward during the day.
While ArenaNet had plenty of goodies to “show”, this was clearly a beta. There was server lag. There were bugs that were found. And, like I said above, the feeling was that the portions of the map we experienced were not fully complete. I feel ArenaNet is moving in a great direction if the map culminates to a whole.
The main part of the direction that excites me is Outposts as story. Yes, many meta-events in core (Pact Tyria is what the mastery system calls it) had stories. However, there always seemed to be a disconnect between Renown Hearts and the surrounding meta-events. I feel the Outpost system seems to be an elegant combination of the two, which makes the Heart of Thorns expansion more exciting.