WARNING: The following post will spoil you if you have not completed the “Point of No Return” episode from Living World Season 2.
Okay, that’s out of the way. Sylvari are created by the jungle dragon! It’s awesome no matter which way you dice it, leading to lots of speculation over what it will mean to have a player race that is capable of being irredeemably evil (even if the players aren’t actually evil).
But rather than speculate on where the story might go with Mordremoth and his estranged creations, I’d like to speculate on what sort of things ArenaNet could build into the expansion to take advantage of the high-level narrative and make it more interesting for the player base to engage in.
NOTE: These are ordered from what I consider most likely to least likely.
Different NPC Reactions
NPC reactions are already confirmed to be a way that ArenaNet will highlight how sylvari are viewed now (see: this teaser trailer and Laranthir’s dialogue in the PAX demo). With a little help from some monstrously large vines, they just downed the entire Pact fleet. No non-sylvari is going to look at their resident salad without being suspicious. Sylvari players will have to deal with the justified suspicion, and maybe even racism, that their kindred’s actions has caused.
Seeing It from Outside
But I consider it just as likely that non-sylvari players will get similar approaches. They’ll get to see strained relations between sylvari and non-sylvari, perhaps even be prodded in dialogue to keep a close eye on “That minion over there.”
What’d be really cool, but I haven’t observed in the existing world, is if conversations were context-sensitive. If I, as an asura, approach with a sylvari in my party nearby, what if a Pact survivor eyes me with disdain and calls out my “untrustworthy ally?”
Another way to distinguish sylvari could be incorporated into the mastery system, since that’s a clearly tracked total. Sylvari just starting without a wink of Heart of Maguuma mastery are scum of the earth, two steps away from betraying everyone.
Meanwhile, someone with a few dozen points is a proven ally to the cause of taking down Mordremoth, unaffected or able to resist the dragon’s siren call. NPCs might even defer to such a player, as she’s likely been to the darker side of the dragon’s will and survived.
Revisiting a System to Give It More Personality
Between the April and September 2014 Feature Packs, the personality system that used to be part of a character’s identity has been made invisible, outside of select NPC conversations. As best I can figure (I can’t find any developer statement), it was functionally removed because it had no point beyond personal story.
Being a captivating mountebank, or a daring scoundrel, or a noble knight had zero effect on 99% of the game. And the work required to build effects in, even if it’s pre-programmed NPC reaction lines when a player passes by, is immense.
That’s why I think it got quietly swept under the rug of UI updates and never mentioned again, like that embarrassing event at the family reunion seven years ago. For something that would still be minor in effect, tons of hours would have to be devoted to making it a reality.
Exploring Shades of the Spectrum
RPGs are built to encourage personality, even MMOs, a genre famous for either poor story, poor player agency, or both. And with the overall narrative of who sylvari are, I see a golden opportunity to build into Heart of Thorns the central tension of who a given sylvari really is, minion or friend.
It’s a given that no player is going to be allowed to be evil; it doesn’t fit the “you’re a hero, this is your story” meta-narrative that the game as a whole has. The same reasoning has been why the Inquest, Nightmare Court, and the like haven’t been options for players.
But what if a sylvari could shift among all points of the evil/good spectrum without actually being evil? What if during the personal story and other instances, a sylvari has the option to do some shadowy work, infiltrating among corrupted sylvari or Nightmare Court? What if they could listen to “the voice” just that little bit, but refuse the corruption?
On the other side, another sylvari can be bound and determined to clear his name against the scourge of Mordremoth’s name. He hates the accursed dragon and wants to take it down even more than his allies.
For non-sylvari, a similar spectrum is present: suspicion vs. sympathy. Either a charr doesn’t trust a salad as far as she can throw them, or she doesn’t believe her leafy friends are weak enough to fall to a dragon’s influence. Or anywhere in between.
Making It Matter
What Did You Say?
At the very least, injecting a touch of personality around the core conflict would have to trigger different conversations, similar to the first set. To do it well, it couldn’t just be the current dignity/charm/ferocity dialogue tree choice. NPCs would have to have different lines depending on the sort of character is approaching. Taking a minimal approach, that’s six potential lines per NPC (good/neutral/“evil” sylvari, suspicious/neutral/sympathetic non-sylvari).
That’s a tall order, which is why I don’t think it’s as likely. But consider if it was there. A player’s choices over the course of the story would matter, and be directly experienced in ways that text can never convey. Sure, it’s minor nods here and there, but imagine the first time a Pact survivor screams “Stay away from me, you traitor!” That would have an effect.
Now what if that sylvari came back, having explored the Heart of Maguuma and survived against Mordremoth’s wiles, and that same NPC quietly mumbled, “I’m…sorry for what I said. I was wrong. Thank you.”
This is my Story
Want four of the most hopeful words ever uttered in an opening cinematic? “This is my story.” Depending on who you ask, it was your story through level 30, level 50, or not ever at any point. Honestly, the personal story became a “pick two almost-identical-options, neither is wrong” very soon after the initial two arcs. And after picking an order, the plot from thenceforth was functionally determined. It didn’t feel personal, it didn’t have the feeling of choice.
With detection of where on the spectrum a character lies over time, a character can get the option to branch their storyline in that direction. A sylvari daring the corruption could get different missions than the one refusing to be seen in wrong company. A sympathetic non-sylvari could be assigned as leader of a sylvari-based advance scout, while a suspicious one goes with a different set of folks entirely.
With six different possible stances, it’s a low enough number that offering unique rewards for finishing the campaign in one stance confers a cosmetic benefit related to their choices. These could be specifically character-bound, even as skins, conferring a character permanence while not really locking players off (5 character slots by default in Guild Wars 2 and Heart of Thorns might add more if previous expansions from Guild Wars are indicative).*
*Granted, those folks who either love sylvari or hate them might be SoL, but there is always an edge case.
To give some thrown-out-there examples:
- Corrupted sylvari: Mordremoth-exclusive orange glow
- Noble sylvari: Pale Tree-type white facial aura
- Suspicious of sylvari: Unique fire-based skin (Burn them all!)
Since adventures, leaderboards, and timed activities are going to be a thing going forward in the expansion, why not riff on the Branded Corruption event of Beta Weekend Event 2?
In a PvP-based activity, one team is “corrupted” sylvari, while the other is either uncorrupted or non-sylvari. Cull the infestation with each side having different skills across jungle terrain, sort’ve like Evolve but with even numbers.
To give a nod to the sylvari part of the equation, no player is restricted from being on the corrupted team, but they will get a random “corrupted skin” as opposed to getting to keep their character’s look for the activity.
And since it’s an activity/adventure/pick-your-nomenclature, there is no extreme negative of open world PvP. Players decide to do the activity instead of it being forced upon them.
Dancing with the Dragon
WARNING: The following is extreme speculation bordering on outright wishful thinking. I don’t expect to see it at all, but it would be endlessly cool if it did happen.
What if we take this one step forward from direct or indirect interactions with NPCs and situations, and apply it to every interaction with the denizens of the Heart of Maguuma?
Facing the Corruption
Sylvari don’t just get special dialogue, their position on the spectrum changes their options entirely. Rather than dealing with the same threats, having the same allies in all situations, and playing the exact same events as everyone else, who they have shown themselves to be determines a portion of their experience.
On the one side, let a corrupted sylvari obtain an optional buff that marks them as such. While holding the buff, their damage to Mordremoth’s specific minions is much lower, but Mordrem will see them as allies in certain areas and ignore them completely.
Likewise, events that would usually be inaccessible because of their location deep in hostile territory (vines blocking the way, environmental hazards, etc.), are available to someone masquerading as a servant of the jungle dragon.
Flipping it to the other side, a noble sylvari becomes a walking target with his buff. Mordrem try to take him down and bring him under the dragon’s thrall. But allies that would have normally been indifferent or hostile come to his aid regularly. Just like a corrupted one, events unavailable to others are open to him.
Taking a Side
For non-sylvari, their choices can also result in a buff. A suspicious character would get the option to open fire on (non-player) sylvari when they aren’t clearly under control, and accept the consequences that might entail. Potentially despicable? Sure, but it’s directly integrating the narrative into the gameplay. In the midst of their general pogrom, they will gain the favor of noble sylvari and their allies, giving them similar benefits.
For sympathetic characters, the reverse is true. They get the option to help isolated sylvari, gaining the favor of those courting corruption itself, and giving similar benefits.
(I should note that for both these cases, this is on the edge of what I consider ArenaNet would accept as potential features and content, but leaving the sylvari as the only race with special options is exclusionary and I’d prefer to avoid it)
Rewarding the Choice
Taking things in this direction is directly informing the experience of Heart of Thorns by a character’s personal choices. It’s utterly unlike anything we’ve seen before in Guild Wars 2. (Hence, why I think it extremely unlikely.)
But aside from the exclusive content (which will likely be minor), offer a title for time spent or events completed while under the more stringent requirements of the buff. A player will have to change his or her play style to accommodate either Mordrem being near-impossible to kill or that local bunch of sylvari being an escort load. It’s gameplay-reinforced roleplaying, and the achievement of having done it should be recognized.
What About Us?
With all of these ways that Heart of Thorns could extend the narrative beyond simply being a story point, it begs the question, “what about us, the players?” This is a golden opportunity to have fun with the lore and story, having light roleplaying among players of different in-game races and backgrounds.
Even if most of what I wrote isn’t going to happen, the chance for the player base to make their own fun in a different direction than the norm should not be missed. It can mean attending the next MordyMoot or equipping an entire skill bar with nothing but fire and napalm and tromping off to the Village of Astorea loaded for bear.
By the way, my sylvari Talifa wanted to say, #PraiseMordy.