We’d got to know the Aetherblades a little at this stage, now well in to Summer 2012, and the lead NPC character in the past few Living Story episodes, Ellen Kiel, now jetted off to an exotic foreign trading Bazaar – taking us with her. What was it all in aid of and what did it leave us with?
Bazaar of the Four Winds:
The Bazaar of the Four Winds was the name given to our trip to Zephyr Sanctum – an airborne kite city that had landed for a seasonal stay in a far away land. Ellen Kiel, who we’d got to know while fighting the Karka and the Aetherblades was now jetting us off to this exotic market city, as she tried to gain favour in the run up to the Lion’s Arch Council Election – which she hoped to win.
The story behind why we were teleported to this unconnected and far away city was sketchy at best, but did the job. Zephyr Sanctum is incredibly beautiful, so whilst it didn’t really fit in with the Living Story story curve (what there is of one!), I am very glad that it was released to us. You can see below how stunning it was, and I’m glad that I did enough achievements during this episode that I was rewarded with a model of the Sanctum – which now that it’s gone I like to look at every so often to remember it.
There wasn’t really much story to the Sanctum, but the main activity we were expected to do while we were there was called Sanctum Sprint – essentially Mario Cart in GW2. Why did we have to do it? I have no idea. As a concept it wasn’t bad, and the race course looked just as good as the sanctum. Even the mechanics were fairly good, like the lighting teleport, wind jump and sun sprint. However, the major flaw with this activity was the community. Just like in Mario Kart there are power ups and ‘weapons’ which you could use to trick and undermine those you were racing against.
Inevitably, as with any MMO, those you were playing against had always played it more than you and so knew exactly the best places to use which power ups but were also ruthless in their use of tricks to knock you off course. I gave up after the first day of this activity, simply because I was fed up of being essentially trolled by other players.
That happens in Mario Kart too, but at least the troll is sitting next to you and you can punch them back for it (or at least not share your gaming food with them as revenge). There’s no accountability for these individuals who made Sanctum Sprint a misery for many. They ruined my experience of an activity that could have worked, for all its lore flaws, and then were rewarded handsomely by the game achievements for doing so. It left a bit of a sour note unfortunately, which I’m glad was more than made up for by the joy of exploring the Sanctum.
In particular I enjoyed the super high dive point at the highest point you could get to on the main kite. It took a while to make your way up there, thousands of feet above the ground, each jump increasing your heartbeat. Then the jump off the dive point, that was fantastic, and here’s a picture of me and a furry partner in crime about to jump off:
The story of the Sanctum was developed a bit more 2 weeks later, extending the temporary stay of the Sanctum to 4 weeks in total. This was the election for the LA Council seat which Kiel had been gunning for throughout the previous Living Story episodes.
Firstly, Anet made a mistake in giving players the vote in this election – you inevitably make as much as 50% of the community unhappy with the entire 2 weeks content.
The election mechanism was dodgy in its own right, with vote tokens awarded for gameplay over time but also purchasable – with several pictures and videos emerging for supporters of both candidates buying hundreds of thousands of votes. Vote buying is never a good mechanic to allow in a player choice situation and Anet should definitely have made it one vote per account.
Secondly, pitting the candidates against each other on 2 platforms was a mistake. There was Ellen Kiel – our Living Story hero who promised to bring about a new nuclear reactor themed fractal dungeon. The there was Evon – our Living Story anti-hero Charr who promised a new god battle themed fractal dungeon. That’s just two aspects to choose from, and very basic choices at that.
Anet essentially boiled the vote down to – the boring hero vs the exciting anti-hero. It split the vote, in the same way as asking a million people to choose either left or right would – and it would be about as meaningful.
In the end Kiel won – with a reported 51% of the vote. I can believe that personally (although such a close result obviously created some tensions at the time in the community), because if you ask a group of people to choose between two essentially identical things you will get a 50/50 result. Yes, there were differences, but superficial differences that belied the very shallow nature of the choice offered.
Southsun Survival and Aspect Arena:
A small addition to the game during the election were two mini games, which supporters of each candidate could play. Evon gave us Southsun Survival and Kiel gave us Aspect Arena. As a Evon supporter I didn’t want to play Aspect Arena, I felt it would be betraying my candidate, so I can only really comment of Southsun Survival.
Southsun Survival was the Hunger Games. You are dropped in to an arena with a group of other people, with limited weapons and supplies. The winner is the last alive, with your health dropping anyway if you’re out of supplies and any bow shot by an enemy capable of an insta-kill if you don’t dodge it at the exact right moment.
I had to play this mini game 20 times to get the final achievement to get the grand achievement box for this Living Story achievement, and I hated every single one of those rounds.
Southsun Survival suffers from the same problem as Mario Kart / Sanctum Sprinter, that everybody you are up against are inevitably better than you. To a certain extent that does make Sanctum Sprinter unplayable, there are power ups that only benefit those far behind the main pack for instance. However, with the dog eat dog mechanics of Southsun Survival you just get your face trodden into the ground round after round.
I won one of those 20 rounds, and that was simply because I managed to find about ten health kits, and went and hid in a cave healing myself over time as my health seeped away until I was the only one left alive. I out survived the opponents – a cheap trip maybe – but on the other 19 matches I was one of the first handful to die every time. There’s no fun in that, and I resented having to sit through what could sometimes be almost 30 min matches just for an achievement. If there had been another way to get the reward chest I would’ve dropped playing Southsun Survival in an instant.
I don’t mind that they put all these mini games in with The Bazaar Living Story line, but I wished that the mechanics weren’t quite so biased towards those playing it constantly since release – as a casual player I never stood a chance and there was no fun in it. I understand why these mechanics exist, to make challenging mini-games, but combined with the almost compulsory nature of the mini games if you wanted the reward chest and you get a negative situation. I didn’t want to play Southsun Survival but I essentially had to.
Overall, Zephyr Sanctum was a beautiful release and I enjoyed exploring the Bazaar. Unfortunately the Bazaar experience was ruined by the mini games attached to it and by a very lackluster story and lore explanation. I want to see the Bazaar return in the future but with more exploring and less gimmicks.
Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com