There is something about the combination of high fantasy and Lovecraftian themes that just works. It’s a strange mishmash of themes, after all. Many of Lovecraft’s terrible elder beings were more interdimensional aliens than distinctly magical. Yet, something about it clicks. Perhaps high fantasy is a genre that works best with big, reality ending stakes. The trope of an ancient evil faced down by a party of adventures is inherently silly, yes. Regardless, sword and sorcery go hand in hand with risen eldritch beings of immeasurable power.
Such is the case, too, with Guild Wars 2, the MMORPG by ArenaNet. The game is currently free to play.
The Crapsack World
Guild Wars 2 is easily a post-apocalyptic story. It embodies that trope of the Crapsack World. Things in the world of Tyria are so bad at this point that the end of the world is a very real threat to the present collections of races across the land. One could argue that this may be a welcome reprieve for them. How so?
To begin, after the defeat of the first of several Elder Dragons, the Great Destroyer, five other Elder Dragons awaken 250 years later and besiege Tyria. Your player story begins in this period where, essentially, five Elder Gods are exerting their will on Tyria. Their corruption bleeds into every story you experience in the game.
For example, the Human race, typically the lynchpin of high fantasy narratives, is in rapid decline. There is only one human kingdom remaining. Elder Dragon disasters have wiped out a large portion of humanity’s cities and settlements. Compounding this is a long and bitter feud with the Charr.
The Charr, a brutal and warlike race, have reclaimed their own original lands after a long struggle against the Humans. Yet, their lands, battle-scarred by the machine of war, are also haunted by the ghosts of humans who died in this struggle. Though humans are Charr are not in an active war, the uneasy truce between humans and Charr is constantly at risk. Any semblance of peace is far from lasting.
The Norn, a massive offshoot of humanity, have been pushed out of their own frozen homelands by the Elder Dragon Jormag. Another race, the Asura, fled to the surface of Tyria, chased out by the Elder Dragon Primordus. These small inventors have access to incredible energy magics and golemancy and have injected dangerous technology into an incredibly unstable society.
Most curious of all is the arrival of another race to Tyria, the Sylvari. This plant people are only about 25 years old since their first arrival and come from a collective dream. Even stranger, they may have some connection to the Elder Dragons.
Here there be Elder Dragons
The main Lovecraftian appeal here is the Elder Dragons. These are beings of unimaginable power. The official wiki for Guild Wars 2 describes them as primordial beings who engage in cyclical destructive periods followed by slumbers. This period of awakening is referred to as a “Dragonrise.” Here players must contend with being so ancient and otherworldly that their patterns of behavior revolve around millennia and who seem to have a synergistic connection to the magic of the land. Tyria has its own share of spellcasters, but that is nothing on the grand scale of power these dragons represent.
These dragons are the greatest consumers of energy in Tyria, but also the greatest providers. To challenge these dragons is to challenge reality itself. They are so influential that even constellations in the sky seem to be altered by their awakening. The sense of scale in influence and even mass itself is disproportionate and fitting of a title such as Elder Dragon.
Guild Wars 2 has six Elder Dragons. Zhaitan, representing death and shadow drives the primary actions of the base game. Primordius waits in the depths of Tyria controlling fire and conflagration. Jormag forced the Norns from their icy homeland and controls ice. The crystal dragon Kralkatorrik controls a large desert territory. Lastly, Modremoth, a plant dragon, is the creator of the Sylvari.
What is worse is what we don’t know…
Only the names of five of these Elder Dragons have been revealed in the game thus far. There seems to be a sixth cosmic horror slumbering beneath the waves of the Unending Ocean. Some claim to know of its approximate location, and some refer to it as the deep sea dragon, but any documentation of it is lacking. An in-game scroll, damaged, only reveals that the Elder Dragon’s name begins with an “S.”
Signs of this sixth dragon are everywhere in the game and they are disconcerting at best, terrifying at worst. There is something primal and vastly unknowable about the ocean, and the dragon who makes its home beneath the seas must be horrific indeed. So horrific that aquatic races such as the gentle Quaggan have fled their ancestral lands, which were destroyed by creatures on the influence of this great and terrible dragon.
Based on just how terrible it must be to live on Tyria, the presence of this sixth dragon is a potentially thrilling addition to an already strongly Lovecraftian video game.
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