Full Disclosure: I'm very likely going to have to stop playing the Icebrood Saga. I haven't enjoyed the story much at all -- though I confess that Bjora Marches as a map, various puzzles, and a big fight against Drakkar have been quite entertaining, if mildly reminiscent of the Vinewrath.
This post isn't going to be me ranting about my dislike of the new storytelling of GW2 Living World, but rather what would have liked to have seen in its place. So let's begin.
Earlier I did some further thinking on my issues with the "No Quarter" chapter insofar, and realized that one of the facets entirely missing from the story is that there's really no side of it that's meant to appeal to the player's emotions through the characters. There might be bits of nostaligia (with Snarl and Galina, or our bandmate), and the occasional dabbling in the dubious ethics of warfare, but we really don't experience the Charr "civil war" from the side of those fighting it. Rather, what the story feels like is the perspective of an outside force, in spite of the fact that we, the Commander, are down on the ground doing what we can to support the United Legions.
I wanted to build on that, with a hypothetical sequence inspired by the old Personal Story chapters. This is the result.
Important: everything after this should be consider spoilers for the story of the Icebrood Saga and "No Quarter"!
The premise essentially throws out the immediate opening of "No Quarter" and a fair portion of what else I had played (up to and including "Distract, Destroy, Distrust"). Rather than executing defectors and those who might presumably be seeking to leave the Dominion -- which, let's all be honest, is only bolstering Bangar's propaganda and giving the Charr further reasons to doubt the legions -- these defectors are forcibly conscripted into new warbands.
Prior to this, two ranking officers can be heard discussing the matter, with the one doubting her Tribune's insistence on not having those with known loyalties mixed into these new teams, let alone keeping former allies together. Her counterpart explains that it's too great a risk, and "something of reverse psychology," by creating the awareness that they have everything to lose should there prove to be a traitor in their midst. Some banter then posits whether this would even work, if a warband is supposed to trust, often implicitly, when instead it's made up of unknowns and any one of them might be a Dominion spy.
With the front line dangerously near the Umber Grotto and the United Legions still reeling after the failed parley with Ryland Steelcatcher, and only a tenuous recovery yet underway, is the Commander asked to assist a group of scouts who will be going deep behind enemy lines to assess the Dominion's forces and determine alternate routes to outmaneuver their advance and, with any luck, cut off the Dominion from their supply lines. It's a dangerous mission, but failure is not an option.
Secretly is this team one such warband, though gone pointedly unmentioned by any of the three Legions' tribunes, thus making the revelation more impactful.
Over the course of the sequences, the Commander overhears the idle chatter of the team, learning a little about each of them and why they defected from the Dominion, whilst they get to know one another better. One amongst their number even confesses that he had meant to leave the Legions, but "saw for myself how the Dominion really treats defectors," and came back to turn himself in.
However, there's a problem -- they each suspect one of their own, namely one Charr in particular. He's one of their more experienced scouts. Others comment how he has been seen slipping away under cover of darkness (but is always back within the hour), or how his patrols seem to last just a little too long -- only a few minutes, but it raises doubts. It's when a third on the team says that this scout has twice defied orders and altered an intended drop-off route with only the thinnest of excuses as to why that the Commander is asked to keep an eye on him as a possible traitor.
This is made all the more pressing after another team is found all but butchered ... presumably by Dominion forces.
Worried that one of their own is secretly a Dominion spy, but lacking sufficient evidence to condemn him, the Commander is tasked with tailing one of their scouts. Under cover of darkness, the Commander follows the Charr scout to a rendezvous point, the same which he had diverted through once before ...
The point is revealed to be a largely inconsequential Point of Interest on the map (or nearer to one), but which provides a shadowy area perfect for a number of potential ambushes, as well as the means to surreptitiously reach it and abscond, if need be. From their vantage point, the Commander observes a secretive meeting, between the suspect Charr and what looks to be a full team of Dominion soldiers!
The player would then be presented with a choice:
This choice is repeated as the dialogue between the evident traitor and his Dominion comrades continues, revealing through the exchanges that he is, in fact, desperately attempting to arrange for this group -- his former 'bandmates -- to flee the oppressive tyranny of Bangar Ruinbringer and the Dominion, and escape to the United Legions, bringing with them intel, arms, and their own lives to fight against the war.
On the final sequence, the second choice (Route B ) is replaced with the option to "Calmly approach."
Choosing the first option ("condemn the traitor") will, obviously, terminate the sequence and begin a hostile encounter, resulting in a tense fight deep behind enemy lines against a number of Dominion forces, followed by the Commander cutting a path back to the camp. Once there, they discover the coals still burning, but no sign of life -- most of the others were cut down, barely having time to defend themselves. It looks like an ambush, much like what happened to the team discovered earlier.
The only oddity is that one of them looks to be unaccounted for, and perhaps dragged off as a prisoner of war ...
Almost immediately does everyone reach for their weapons, thinking themselves about to be pitted in a battle they aren't certain they can win. The Commander does their best to reassure their peaceful intent, asking to know if what they say is true. With proof furnished and fervently repeated by each present -- they have been diverting supplies and their own assignments for days, trying to prepare for this night; supplies which the United Legions urgently need -- does the Commander offer their protection back to the camp, and is whose presence which ultimately gives them the hope that they might just live through it.
During the walk back, however, the formerly suspect Charr asks the Commander whether they have seen another member of the team, who had "promised to come with me and help to convince my 'bandmates to join us." The Commander replies that they had not, and the last they had seen him was at camp.
Shortly after returning is it discovered that the team member is missing and unaccounted for, his gear gone as well. In the midst of an argument over whose side the Commander is really on, Dominion soldiers attack, mercilessly observing that "the traitors are exactly here <'bandmate> said they'd be!" The defectors fight for their lives against their former comrades, proving their loyalty to the Legions.
It is through this encounter, and the dialogue both preceding and afterward, that it becomes understood that the 'bandmate in question was the real Dominion sympathizer, who had been secretly leaking troop movements to help Bangar's forces pick off the special warbands, in an effort to instill fear and distrust within the Legions.
Okay, but ... why?
That's something of a difficult question to answer, but I feel that, with Bangar's manipulation of the Renegades (see: "Bound by Blood") and as his cunning use of espionage and psychological tactics, it would lend itself far better to a situation where he intentionally sews discord within the United Legions by undermining their own attempts to bolster their ranks and morale, by killing off those disloyal to him -- and making it appear as though traitors and spies are rife within these "special" warband teams. Which is personally far better than Smodur's oppressively heavy hand (and writing).
And because I find it increasingly hard to believe that any Charr with even one good ear would fall for his bluster, even if Ryland might be rather dashing on the battlefield.
(Yes, I am willingly ignoring the parallels and overtures that are just a little too familiar to real-life events, right now.)