Storytelling in Heart of Thorns

I had a moment in an abandoned city where I was thinking, I’d gotten ahead of the “official” story and I was now making it up as I went along. There is jargon for this but it’s terribly boorish so let’s skip that part. This is about the story in Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns.

An Asura Gate in Rata Novus
Asura Gate

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is available here.

Spontaneous Storytelling…

I know I’m playing a great game when I actually care about this stuff. My character is an Order of Whispers spy after all, and here I am in an Asuran city surrounded by forgotten secrets. This is Rata Novus, a place I’d never even heard of, evidently evacuated of citizenry due to that wonderful combination of mad science and monster invasion. Poring over discarded reports and log entries, the tragic history of this place filled itself in.

A Hidden Facility in Rata Novus.
Hidden Facility

This is the sort of experience that hooks many gamers on role-playing games: Firstly there’s a need to know your character, to have some history with them that allows you to wear their skin. Their persona slips over your own like a second face, and for a time, you are this person. Secondly, your character is anchored in the world through relationships with other characters, organisations and a shared history. This is what makes the world feel like home. Thirdly, there is a sense of agency, that your being in this world matters and makes a difference. This is what puts you in the moment.

With an experience like that, which is so personal as to be unique, I sometimes wonder how the official story can compete with it. After all you can always look up spoilers for the official story. The story that you tell yourself however isn’t even written until you play the moment and actually experience whatever it is that you experience. It’s that unpredictability and spontaneity that makes it addictive. At least, that’s my personal experience of it.

The Dragon Lab in Rata Novus
The Dragon Lab

… versus the Canon Story.

The next day and with the previous adventure fresh in my mind, I took a Priory character though the proper story missions. The Durmand Priory are “practical historians”, a blend of Oxford professor with Lara Croft and Indiana Jones. It felt apt that this character would come to Rata Novus second, after the spy had already been without leaving a mark.

ArenaNet’s version of the story up to standing in Rata Novus has certainly been laced with a few dramas. Let’s say I’m in a place of mind where I’m not sure who’s going to be alive when the credits roll. There’s a hint of Game of Thrones here, which is alright by me. Where this really impacts my own internalised version of the story is to add punctuation marks to my character’s history. The canon story provides a certain essential structure to my own haphazard adventures.

Chak in Tangled Depths
Chak in Tangled Depths

Like Salt and Pepper they Go Together

The conclusion one has to make is clear: there has to be a strong canon with space for personal ownership. An odd metaphor that comes to mind is a colouring book in which the lines are set but the colours are what you make of them. While the starting point is the same, and many reference points are the same, the journey is different for each and every person. There’s a lot of fun that comes out of comparing your own stories to those of someone else.

The Lost City of Rata Novus
The Lost City of Rata Novus

If you have any thoughts or comments, please leave them below!

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is available here.