The Good, the Bad, and… well, no. They’re All Bad.
I’ve enjoyed the design of Guild Wars 2 quite a bit. I’ve enjoyed the heart system, the exploration / map completion, the daily achievement awards, and the mobile combat style. However, one thing has troubled me throughout all of my personal quest lines. It seems like all the NPCs I work with or against are bad. I won’t go so far as to say they’re evil, as some of their actions, like murdering a murder, are morally neutral, but they’re certainly not good.
I can only talk about my human and sylvari story lines, of course. It may be that the Asura, Charr, and those big dudes story lines are populated entirely with fairy godmothers and angelic martyrs. But I doubt it. Let’s take a look at why. Be forewarned that there’s a fair amount of early story line spoilers (nothing past level 20 or so).
She might appear to be a heroic first-born, but she seems to murder everyone she comes across who she disagrees with. She kills otherwise helpless prisoners, stabs people in the back, and constantly suggests to take the most brutal course of action possible. She does this in multiple story lines, too, as I’ve played through two of them. She’s a very neutrally aligned character who, were we to apply some Star Wars morality, would clearly be a Sith.
Now, to be fair, her personal philosophy based on her experiences is that the bad guys we come across – Sylvari who’ve turned to the Nightmare – cannot be redeemed. By that logic, death is the only “cure.” That’s a cheap plot trick, honestly, to explain away bad deeds. Still, I’m not sure how I feel about her sneaking up on people and killing them without warning simply because they’ve got a different political philosophy. I’m not sure about her killing people who could be let go, and I’m certainly not sure about her constant suggestion we leave people who’ve been captured to die and instead pursue our quests elsewhere. I really just don’t like her.
Narratively, it may be that she’s meant to be a foil for our potentially more heroic characters. She might supposed to be the jaded veteran, like Haymitch from the recently-popular Hunger Games series or the American in Bridge Over River Kwai. However, it’s not clear if she is, and instead she just comes across as a bit of a monster.
The Twins, Arlon and Pellam
After dealing with Caithe, I thought that the comical twins Arlon and Pellam would be a bright spot. Perhaps they were supposed to be, but instead they’re two more monstrous Sylvari who’ll do whatever it takes to get their way. In dealing with them, they routinely threaten, sabotage, or outright destroy their enemies or their property. To “compel” a frog person into giving us some information, one of them torches her wares and house. The other threatens the leader, then repairs a golem that then “mysteriously” goes berserk, all in the effort to force people to give up information that might be dangerous for them to give up. It’s akin to saying to someone afraid of ratting out a gangster that it doesn’t matter if the gangster might kill them if they do rat, because you’ll kill them if they don’t. That’s pretty bad.
Again, their hijinks might be meant to be comical, but the type of comedy is very base and juvenile. More on that later, though.
This captain of the city guard seems pretty upright and good until he decides in the showdown with the first chapter villain to simply kill him instead of capturing him and taking him to trial. I didn’t realize that the justice system was only used when convenient. He doesn’t just agree to but actually suggests creating a death trap for Two-Blade Pete, during which he participates in the slaughter. Yes, Pete is a terrible villain, but that the captain of the guard would so easily throw away the law really made me cringe.
This lovable moron keeps getting himself into trouble. He repeatedly agrees to help Pete commit crimes, then changes his mind. I understand that we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, but if he’s so easily swayed to criminality, then the decision to save him OR stop Pete’s gang from poisoning a well is really no decision at all. This character seems to be another cheap plot point to motivate the main character into wanting to get a revenge killing on Pete, but the lack of substance in the storyline makes it quite unconvincing.
So overall, it seems that most of the NPCs are designed to appeal to our most base motivations: power and revenge. In a game that has dialogue options available based on a score for each option, I simply don’t understand why everything has to be about destruction and violence. I’ve begun to avoid the storyline – which I know I will complete at some point – simply because I feel like it’s pretty poorly done. How about a chance to be a hero and rescue someone (Yes, I got Occam out, but that’s 1 in 10 maybe, and it was directly against the NPC’s advice) instead of murdering them or leaving them behind. How about a chance to talk out a problem – a solution that exists in some nightmare sylvari hearts, but not in the main story line?
I feel like the target audience for the story of this game – not the game itself, which I find very well done and enjoyable – is angry teenagers – I’ll be a little sexist, too, and say boys, since the conflicts are often of the physical instead of mental or emotional nature. Or perhaps I think too much of society, and really a lot of people like this sort of revenge and power fantasy. I’m not sure, I guess, but I am sure that a much more deeply emotional investigation could have been done. I mean the Sylvari are tree people; the best we could come up with for them is killing one another?
Stubborn (and sated).