[GW2] Alpha Predators

Tyria. The dragons have always been here. Sleeping deep beneath the earth, beneath the sea. Waiting for the time to rise.

In this lore-saturated post, I will be looking at the Elder Dragons of Guild Wars 2. Note well, that even with ArenaNet so particular about capitalizing, the Elder Dragons retain their big letters. It’s an interesting tell, in a way, because it’s not really a classification of a fantasy species. It’s a title, similar to how we name hurricanes and earthquakes. Only in this case multiple [un]natural disasters are happening simultaneously in the Guild Wars 2 fantasy world.

It is a double-edged sword for ArenaNet to have chosen the iconic fantasy creature for their Big Bads. Fantasy fans can relate as dragons appear nearly everywhere, but the mighty ur-lizards have fallen from their original status to one of loot and sword fodder in so many games. Even the original Guild Wars had players defeating a dragon as a meager bonus. Still, the dragon has at least always retained some semblance of power over other common foes. Dragons are usually a little more special than the average kobold or skritt. ArenaNet wants to return the dragon to its place of power as megalithic foes in Guild Wars 2.

The ArenaNet devs are constantly referring to the Elder Dragons as forces of nature given flesh and scale. When asked questions about inter-Elder Dragon fighting, alliances, breeding, etc. the usual response is comparing interactions between a hurricane and a volcano. When Zhaitan rose from the depths and brought the drowned sub-continent of Orr with it, the resulting tsunami wiped out cities, such as Lion’s Arch. Kralkatorrik’s flight over Ascalon to the Crystal Desert resulted in the magic-warped Dragonbrand. Yet these world-changing events were merely collateral to the actions of the Elder Dragons. It would be scary to think what would have happened if Zhaitan actually intended primarily to destroy Lion’s Arch.

Which leads to the question: if these catastrophes were ancillary, what do the Elder Dragons intend to do? Kralkatorrik’s first action was to head to the barren Crystal Desert to deal with the traitor Glint instead of the charr civilization that had been crawling all over it for centuries. The charr were more like ant hills in a human’s driveway. In its flight, Kralkatorrik paved a road of magical destruction that may have forever corrupted a swath of the charrlands, but like I said above this effect was collateral. Why, of course, was the Elder Dragon not so logical as to simply fly over the charr’s Black Citadel or the human’s Divinity’s Reach to simply end a whole Tyrian race? Even in the time following this dragonflight there seems to be no word of another Dragonbrand.

The answer is hinted at in the Edge of Destiny paperback. In the book Queen Jennah and the protagonist asura Snaff individually looked in to the Elder Crystal Dragon’s mind. Queen Jennah described it as “a sandstorm. A chaos. Bottomless hunger. Endless outrage.” Snaff saw something analogous to a sandstorm hurricane, where the storm constantly tries to fill the endless hunger of the hollow vortex. Snaff felt that Kralkatorrik’s hunger was insatiable. Earlier in the book a few heroes get a glimpse of the Elder Ice Dragon Jormag’s mentality where it’s analogized to a cruel blizzard with the will and desire to see living things freeze and crack open. Here, the Elder Undead Dragon Zhaitan was talked about as being corruption of death itself. Their purpose and motivations are so primal and underived, which is completely opposite to the centuries-plotting dragons of popular fantasy culture.

These inhuman motivations are grounded in a way because each Elder Dragon has its own unique type of minions. Kralkatorrik and Jormag warp living creatures into crystal or ice, respectively. Although, Jormag seems to do it a much slower pace as seen by the dragontouched Sons of Svanir who visit norn settlements until they become enemy Icebrood. Primordus, the Elder Dragon glimpsed in the Eye of the North expansion, creates mockeries of life with the molten Destroyers. Zhaitan merely takes the dead and returns them to unlife, yet at least in the case of it’s vanquished champion Morgus Lethe it could (and was willing) to communicate with the mortal races… as much as an undead pirate wants to communicate with an adversary during a swashbuckle swordfight to the death. These creatures are a little easier to understand, like how we understand zombies and killer cyborgs.

It’s a tough battle with other MMOs pegging their own dragon-level power. In World of Warcraft, Dragon Aspects, like an Elder Dragon, are more than  mere dragons. They are dragons given more power by the titans. The recent Rift launch features gods-become-dragons as the Big Bads, but even one of the five was killable with the launch raid. In both of these other MMOs the uber-dragons have very human-like motivations. Like a James Bond villain or Zod, they are mostly understood.

ArenaNet has truly put a unique twist on dragons, but their world’s alpha predators can be very tough to understand. It’s probably a better start to with the Lovecraftian gods, like Cthulhu, (or perhaps Cloverfield) than dragons in conventional fantasy to understand what Tyria is up against. Yet, this unique twist comes at a steeper price for a video game. It’s going to be challenging to portray the Elder Dragons as forces of nature in Guild Wars 2. I would guess that we will view them through the narrative lens of the Order each character chooses. The only Elder Dragon that players will physically encounter at launch is Zhaitan, as part of a dungeon, which will also give ArenaNet more time to refine the portrayal of a single Elder Dragon.

and brother, I hurt people

21 thoughts on “[GW2] Alpha Predators”

  1. agreed upon all of it, although I think that one more reason as to why the dragons don’t just fly over some human city to annihilate them quickly, is a matter of caring, humans/chars/asura/sylvari/norn, they are simply to inferior for them to even think of needing to do anything against them.
    like a small fly in the room, you could probably smash it, but it is too much effort for something that doesn’t really bother you.

  2. I think having dragons as enemies is tired.

    One of the reasons I loved playing my High Elf army in Warhammer is because they ride dragons.

    I think perhaps the bible is to blame here, though, as Satan is depicted as a snake/dragon-sort of beast.

    Honestly, I think that came from *somebody* way back when seeing a lone pteradactyl or something that survived. In my eyes a dragon is neither good nor evil, it’s just a big reptile.

    I know. That’s my fantasy and I’m sticking to it. :)

    1. I think it’s simpler than that – lizards are gross, big things are scary, so when you try to come up with a metaphor for Evil, a really really big lizard (with bat wings! and spiky teeth!) works quite well. Simple to imagine, strong emotional reaction.

  3. Dragons as animals or good guys has been done even more. Anyway, Glint and Kunnavang weren’t evil.

    Good post.

    I’m excited to see the character model for Zaihtan.

  4. I really like the idea of the dragons killing people the same indiscriminate way we walk down a path killing all the small insects under our feet. We don’t care, we don’t sway from our path to kill some more (imo the reason for Kralkatorric not flying over mayor settlements), most of the time we don’t even notice them being there. We simply don’t give a damn.

    There is no problem understanding this point of view if you manage to brake away from the antropocentric attitude most people have.

    I actually prefer such enemies to the usual money/power/just-a-evil-bastard-that-wants-to-obliberate-all-life-on-earth/the-universe stuff.

  5. It’s interesting to note that while a human rarely views ants as more than an annoyance, the species that organize themselves specifically for the purpose of killing a larger animal have far less difficulty completing the task.

    1. Which may well be the mistake that the dragons are making. They may be as far above humans (and charr, and others) as humans (etc) are above ants, but most ant nests aren’t capable of responding to a human stepping on them beyond their instinctive response, which usually just isn’t sufficient to drive off such a tormenter, let alone bring one down. A sapient civilisation, on the other hand, can recognise the nature of the threat and determine an effective response.

      1. some relevant google/bing searches; Siafu and Jack-Jumper

        could change your perspective on how “ineffective” the ants’ response to stepping on their colony might actually be…

        Personally, I love the approach ANet is taking towards their dragons – as forces of nature. It’s human nature to foolish ascribe “intent” to things such as massive storms or volcanic erruptions, and this has been the case throughout history – it is, in fact, the origin of nearly all pagan religions.

        Why? Because as scary as an “evil god of storms” might be, it’s actually somehow more understandable and easier to accept on a psychological level than the truth. (That the storm couldn’t give a sh** less about you, and is STILL going to tear you a new one… worse yet, without the aide of technology, there is no freakin way to predict it whatsoever.)

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  7. I seriously can’t wait to encounter the dragons in GW2. I’m hoping that their minions (much like the shatterer) will be more conventionally dragon-like, but they themselves will be great hulking masses of swirling rage, like a living storm. Something unfathomably powerful.

  8. Aerieltalia – I think the trick here is that the Elder Dragons aren’t really portrayed as ‘enemies’ in the conventional sense either. They’re some of the oldest things in the world and, as Ravious pointed out, more like forces of nature than creatures in the world. The world was theirs first. They don’t seem to be here to destroy sentient races, but their nature is to destroy so it’s bound to happen – does that make sense? At any rate the Elder Dragons aren’t what I’d call evil, but they are dangerous.

    I’ve been following GW2 for ages, and I cringe every time I see some new product focusing on dragons. There’ve been a LOT in the last couple of years (WoW, Skyrim, Aion recently I think?). It makes the Elder Dragons look less interesting than they did a few years back. But hey, apparently dragons are in.

  9. I wonder if we will fail at killing Zhaitan at first (like in EoD) and then re-face him in the VERY last GW2 expansion. Because to me, to kill the main baddie in the 1st game, will make the expansions less epic(though still extremely epic) because now your just dealing with the “little” dragons

    1. Erm, did you somehow forget that there are at least four other elder dragons out there even if you manage to take out Zhaitan? There are still Jormag, Primordus, Kralkatorric and the DSD. So Zhaitan es neither THE main baddie, just one of them, nor will there be just “little” dragons left.

    2. Minor point, but elder dragons do not have gender as we understand it. Makes sense, an earthquake has no gender.

  10. I personally like the force of natural spin on the Elder Dragons, it gives ArenaNet a tremendous amount of flexibility in how they want the story to unfold. There’s huge sense of unpredictability without having to justify the motivations of Elder Dragons.

    On somewhat off topic, If Jormag is the blizzard, Kralkatorrik is a sandstorm, Primordus is a volcano, Zhaitan is a tsunami or hurricane, What is the deep sea (assuming it’s an Elder)Dragon? Personally I think Zhaitan force of nature is disease or plague, despite the fact that it caused a tsunami/hurricane. I would like to think the deep sea Dragon is the tsunami/hurricane.

    1. I think Zhaitan just caused the tsunami rather than being described as being one. I would agree that Zhaitan would be more like the chemical weapons version of a plague.

  11. I really like what ANet is doing with their dragons. At first it seems dualistic: They are chaos, but they make champions and armies and seem to have a plan in mind. It’s hard to reconcile that. But once you start to I think it will be glorious.

    The chaos about them means you can never really know what they will do next. They are hungry, they just woke up, and this world is all they have access to.

    Maybe they are more primal in that they just want to satisfy their appetite and reproduce themselves (as seen by their minions). They create champions to act as protectors, but perhaps they don’t really want to destroy the world.

    But they need to be brought down because their actions end up destroying the world. They are a danger to everyone around them, but perhaps they aren’t as villainous as we once thought?

  12. I have to admit to being disappointed with the dragons. Their prominence in the plot, even with all the kinks and twists that we’ve heard about so far, just seems so mundane. I’ve had dragons flying over my head (I wonder why we never hear about dragon excrement, by the way) ever since I read my first fantasy book in 1989, and I feel like the darn lizards have long overstayed their welcome. And why does it always have to be lizards? What’s wrong with an oversized snapping turtle? Or a gigantic caecilian? Or just scrap that nonsense altogether and go Shadow of the Colossus route! :)

    Anyway, I’m rambling, I guess. It is not my intention to make it seem like I don’t appreciate the angle that ANet is taking with their dragons. Primal, ambivalent, all that, it’s a nice touch. Still, dragons = -1 to “I’m taking part in something special” factor.

    Then there’s also the thing with the late 2011/early 2012 Dragon Overload Season. I guess Blizzard will push the Deathwing fight in time to collide with either TOR or GW2. People will also be fresh off Skyrim (a child of dragons fights and kills dragons to eventually kill a really big dragon! Huzzah!)

    Oh, and we’ve already been shown that GW2’s more original dragons unfortunately don’t shy away from employing the age old strategy of using lesser, weak-spot rich, conveniently defeatable dragons to do their dirty work. Meh.

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