With all the Halloween hoo-hah going on right now it would be easy to miss another major, less transitory development happening in GW2. Last Friday saw the start of the first World vs World "Season", along with the implementation of a whole new set of achievements and rewards in support.
Looking at the North American side, where I play, the two dozen servers have been split into three leagues, unoriginally dubbed "Gold", "Silver" and "Bronze". The Gold league comprises the top six servers, while Silver and Bronze have nine each. For a while this was going to be just two leagues of twelve but reason prevailed and the hardcore WvW servers were silk-roped off into a premier league of their own to save the six servers below them from having a predictably miserable time.
Even so, there's some anxiety over the fairness and fun-ness of the matchmaking. Zubon at KTR has a series of posts that go into the prospects and shortcomings of the system in some detail. In common with every variation on the WvW format so far, and there have been a number of them, swings swing and roundabouts turn.
A combination of a weekend work schedule and some still-unresolved computer problems prevented me joining in from the beginning but last night I managed to get to the match at last. I spent a good five hours in the Borderlands and highly enjoyable it was, too.
Our opening match pits Yak's Bend against long-time rivals Ehmry Bay (always known as EBay) and relative strangers Borliss Pass. One of the oddest things to assimilate under the new system is the knowledge that for the next seven weeks the servers against which we will play are already decided. Moreover, it's likely to be relatively easy to predict the rough outcome of each match well ahead of time, although as in any competitive activity unexpected outcomes are always possible and an upset is always on the cards.
Having said in a comment at KTR before the match began that I didn't expect this new system to lead to anything much different for Yak's Bend than the perennial mid-table stasis to which we have become either inured or reconciled over the course of the year, I was surprised to notice a distinctly different tone to proceedings when I finally arrived on YBBL.
For one thing everything now seems to be happening on fast-forward. In the whole longish session, during which I spent time on all three borderlands, I never once saw us fortify or seriously defend anything. Strategy seems to be much more about an endless tit-for-tat taking of camps, towers and even keeps.
My understanding of the larger plan is limited since I'm not currently in the server's WvW voice chat, which has moved in the few weeks since I Iast paid attention from Mumble, which I have installed, to TeamSpeak, which I don't. Direction of ancillary forces still largely takes place through Team and Map chat, though, and if in doubt there's always a blue dorito to follow. I just go where the action is and respond to map calls when they come, a "strategy" I've been employing for over a year and one which serves to keep me richly entertained more often than not.
As well as everything happening faster, a change of pace I very much appreciate, the addition of full-scale Achievements for WvW Seasons akin to those available for episodes of the Living Story seems to have had an immediate and unmistakeable impact on behavior, even more so than when Ranks were first introduced a few months ago. More than once last night Commanders were heard questioning the motivations of their troops and exhorting them to drop working on personal achievements goals and go where they were needed instead. One commander eventually became so incensed by the lack of community spirit evidenced by his own zerg that he mapped to another border without them, announcing he was leaving them to look after themselves, much the way a biology teacher at my school would send himself out of the classroom when his students became too unruly to manage.
WvW always had Achievements, of course. The problem was, and still is, that those that came at the start are mostly seen as an insane grind completely out of synch with Achievements anywhere else in the game. Just as an example, the second tier of the original Achievement "Stonemist Stands Firm - Again" requires you to defend Stonemist Castle one thousand times. That's for the second tier of a five tier achievement. They're all like that. They make getting a Legendary Weapon look like finishing a Daily.
Consequently, those Achievements never seemed to have much, if any, impact on how people played. When Ranks were added there was a brief flurry of interest but since they feed off general World Experience rather than specific activities, if it changed anything it was more likely to be how much WvW people did not what kind. The new Achievements are different from either of the previous systems and potentially much more appealing for two reasons.
Firstly, unlike the original achievements, these are both attractive and manageable. They aren't just like Living Story achievements, apparently they are Living Story achievements. They appear under the Living Story tab, at least. Like the LS installments, there's a Meta-Achievement for completing a set number, fifteen in fact, during the Season, with the reward varying depending on your server's final place in its league. Dulfy, as always, has the full details and each achievement looks highly, um, achievable, asking for example for the capture of one hundred camps or the destruction of thirty gates or walls. Given that there are seven weeks to complete it all the bar is set at an eminently jumpable height.
Secondly, unlike Ranks which have to be ground out separately on every individual character, Season Achievements are, like all other achievements, proper to the whole Account. Not only may this make playing more than one character in WvW more attractive for some than it has been until now, there are also some synergies to be gained by doing some of the Achievements on different characters, as Dulfy points out in her commentary.
It's very early days. The first of seven matches has just begun and I have only seen a single session. On the limited evidence and experience so far, however, I would say these appear, on the whole, to be positive changes likely to open WvW up to a wider range and greater number of players. Certainly we had queues on Yak's Bend for most of the Borderlands last night, which is not a regular occurrence.
The quality of WvW life is going to vary from server to server depending on both the league in which the server finds itself and the server's relative strength within that league, but then it was ever thus. Presumably at the end of each Season there will be promotions and relegations, so even for the weakest servers its only purgatory, not eternal damnation, although after six or seven weeks of being roflstomped by all-comers it may well feel like it.
On a personal level I'm not best pleased, to put it mildly, by the inclusion of no fewer than five Jumping Puzzle Completions in the list of Achievements. It is possible to complete the meta without hopping about like a demented frog but only if you complete everything else. On the bright side, I would lay odds on some official server runs complete with full defense and portal teams at some point in the Season. Yak's Bend is nothing if not inclusive.
In the end no system will ever satisfy everyone. The best we can hope for are changes that move in directions that we feel are both good for the game and good for us. It's a hope likely to be confounded more often than not but this seems to me to be one of the more optimistic developments of late.