I’d like to start by congratulating ArenaNet on the presentation of Season 3. For me, the instances introduced in this past season were some of the best in terms of gameplay and I absolutely love the way our characters talk without cutscenes. I’m really happy with the quality they’ve hit in terms of the design of the instances this season. (Although Team 3 still need to get their kitten together because they made some of the worst instances in this season.)
However, while I feel the instance design itself was good over the season I feel the writers lost focus.
Dialogue: To start, it is clear that something with the writers in Episode 5 and 6. I’d say the dialogue was not pretty engaging, well-paced, and sometimes touching in what were my favorite episodes 1, 2 and 4. Playing through the season again I realized that around episode 5 the dialogue becomes vague, imprecise, and fails to feel nearly as witty and self aware.
Narrative Arc: In the first episodes of the season, the narrative direction seemed clear and engaging. Primordus and Jormag are active, the White Mantle is on the rise, Lazarus might be a threat or an ally, and Aurene hatches. These four plot lines were all well set up and developed in the first half of the season. I was extremely satisfied with how we take down Caudecus even if the fight itself was overly punishing and the instance where Aurene hatches was impeccably designed.
I was even okay with the reveal that Balthazar was Lazarus up to a point. To me, Balthazar feels completely shoe horned into the story. It’s as if they had the story of the expansion pretty much figured out but couldn’t quite figure out how to bridge the gap between Season 3 and the expansion.
One of the biggest frustrations for me was that clearly the notion of Lazarus’s aspects was a big part of the story and yet it was only introduced halfway through the season. I’d like to see more planning and seeds planted much sooner.
To me, the way the two dragons at once plot line concludes felt entirely disappointing. From what I understand Taimi developed Omadd’s machine so that it could be used to kill both dragons at once. Then, Balthazar used the machine in an attempt to kill both dragons, failed, but got away with some magic. To start, I still don’t understand why Balathazar tried to find Primordus to use the machine. Clearly both dragons didn’t need to be present as Jormag wasn’t there so why did he have to go find Primordus? I feel like the whole business with the machine wasn’t properly set up. The notion that dragon energies could be lethal to each other was well explained but the idea that Taimi could create a machine that could easily kill two dragons was a pretty big leap.
Further, the way we treat Jormag going to sleep feels like the biggest plot hole. Taimi says, “Yeah, Jormag probably went to sleep.” And we just go with that. And the whole business with Braham seems like biggest misstep. I didn’t actually have so much of a problem with Braham being an angsty teenager but I did at least want some sort of conclusion. He shot the tooth and a big group of Norn are probably going to go after the ice dragon. But let’s put that aside for the next year because we didn’t properly plan out the story.
And then we get to Episode 6 which was a big disappointment to me. Episode 6 doesn’t feel like the conclusion to Season 3 but rather the opening to Season 4. And I wanted a conclusion to Season 3. And I think I might have liked it more if the narrative was well written. But instead, our big idea for finding Balthazar was looking for a random unnamed acolyte of Balthazar in Divinity’s Reach. That story step only existed to get us talking to Anise so we could be put on her little quest. Then, we get Livia and the Eye of Janthir and Lazarus and the Crystal Desert in quick sucesssion. That’s four new plot points introduced in the final episode of the season. That just doesn’t feel right to me. None of this was seeded from the start. There is no foreshadowing.
Transitions: While at the start of the season transitions between episodes fit really well. Taimi tells us Primordus is awake and we go talk to her. Aurene hatches and we spend some time with Aurene. But they fall down halfway through the season. Especially criminal to me seem the transitions between episodes 5 and 6 and the transitions between episodes 6 and the expansion.
Reasons to go the maps: Each map we go to should feel like an organic part of the story. I don’t feel going to Draconis Mons was an organic part of the story. I still don’t understand why Balthazar set up his base there and what his plan was if he didn’t secure Taimi’s machine. When we’re chasing after people it often seems to bring us to new and interesting places. That’s boring. I’d like maps to feature as an organic part of the story such as in episodes 1 and 4 where the maps tell the story as much as the instances.
For me, the biggest plot point I still don’t understand going into the expansion is why Balthazar has given up on killing Primordus and Jormag. Why did he turn his attention to Kralkotorric? Logic holds that a weakened Jormag and Primordus might be easier targets than the probably powerful Jormag. Unfortunately, I’m a little concerned I’m going to have a hard time buying the premise of the next expansion.