Monday, January 26, 2015

Come And Have A Go If You Think You're Hard Enough : GW2

Now the lights have gone out at PAX South and the boomsticks have stopped their infernal clacking there's time aplenty to consider the future of Guild Wars 2. Heart of Thorns has no release date. It will, as they say, be ready when it's ready.

We won't have to wait too long to get a first look: there will be a playable demo available for PAX East in early March. There's also going to be a beta phase prior to launch. In the meantime, though, it's a case of reading the runes.

Massively has a disturbing interview with Mike O'Brien and Colin Johanson that sends chills down my spine each time I re-read it. The discomfort I felt listening to O'Brien elucidate his vision of the game at the weekend is only compounded by quotes such as this:

"The way that you earn mastery points is, I think, a very Guild Wars 2 way to earn mastery points: You do really really hard things that you on your account have never done before."

As is all too common when I read or hear the words of the senior developers and designers of an MMO I have to wonder if they play the same game that I do. In the three years I've been playing, going back to the beginning of public beta, I cannot recall ever having felt that doing really hard things was the Guild Wars 2 way. Let alone really really hard things. If anything I would have said the exact opposite.

Any dungeon that ends with my character running around naked is quite difficult enough, thank you.

Yes, it's true that GW2 has, on occasion, contained the odd "really hard thing". Liadri the Concealing Darkness for example, but in general even the supposedly "hard" things, like the Molten Facility or Marionette were only "hard" when measured by the extremely soft yardstick of the rest of the game. The entire ethos of GW2 has always been about inclusiveness not elitism. That's why we can all revive each other when we fall over, why no-one has to compete for resource nodes and why, at least in theory, we are all always happy to see another player.

So, I'm more than a little concerned about this new conceptualization of GW2 as a "really hard" game. Concerned but not surprised. This change of direction has been creeping up on us for quite a while.

Perhaps the first clear indicator that the wind had shifted came with the introduction of the new mechanics for Living Story Season 2. The first season had been open to everyone. By and large the instances and dungeons scaled to level or your character would be bootstrapped up as necessary. Great care was taken to spread open world events across a range of maps so all levels could join in.

Don't pressurize me so. (That's a No Prize if ever I saw one)

Come the second season and everything changed. If you didn't have a max level character you could forget it. The story chapters are hard-coded to require a Level 80. Our guildmate, who only plays on Sunday mornings, not every Sunday and never for more than a couple of hours, has nonetheless been been playing regularly for nearly two years. He has only one character: a Guardian now in the mid-50s. He used to be able to join us for Living Story runs. Not any more. Players with his casual playstyle are no longer welcome.

At the same time the old, easy, inclusive Living World achievement system was ripped out and replaced with something overtly aimed at the elitist's club. Rather than a series of simple, relaxing tasks that would largely fill themselves out as you completed each bi-weekly episode anyone wanting those Achievement Points is now required to replay instanced content in odd, artificial ways in order to hit specified markers of difficulty.

Even before that, though, there were straws in the wind. The changes to the Trait system that came in the first Feature Pack back in Spring 2014, almost universally reviled, contained a plethora of level- or playstyle-inappropriate requirements. To many people playing the game these seemed to have been chosen in order to exclude anyone below a certain level from obtaining them and, while there was some revision under protest, I can attest from my recent leveling run that most still remain.

Devil Machine (and there's another!)

At least with the Trait system you can buy your way out of hours of wasted time or "must be this tall to ride" roadblocks. Ten silver or Blazeridge Steppes map completion? It's your choice. I fear the new Mastery System will come with no such get-out clause.

Many early adopters and believers in GW2's founding design principles, handily precised in the game's official online manual's "Don't Worry" section as "There’s no wrong way to play Guild Wars 2; just explore, have fun, and keep trying out new things!", lost faith long ago. Those of us who arrived with our skepticism fully intact may have been better able to roll with the punches. Still, there is that old one about straws and camels' backs...

Ah well, maybe this is all pre-expansion paranoia.  With so little in the way of firm details its easy to let either your wish-fulfillment fantasies or your tinfoil hat fears run away with you. And there's a part of that quote above that makes me question just what it is they have up their sleeves: "things that you on your account have never done before". 

Tie that in with the assertion that "ArenaNet is being careful to include mastery points all over the current Guild Wars 2 landmass" and you have to wonder. There will be plenty of players for whom there remains pretty much nothing in the existing maps that they haven't already done.

Presuming the intent is not to bar such over-achievers from access to the Mastery system as it may exist outside of Heart of Thorns then O'Brien's claim that ""We're going to keep evolving the world, and we intentionally picked a strategy where it's not leaving behind a wasteland"" becomes pregnant with potential. But then, aren't they all?


  1. I've been poking around slowly there as a new character and I can say I've been really disappointed in not being able to do the living story. I had one character to 16 before the new leveling changes and found the gating for basic stuff really annoying even on only the second character I tried. I guess maybe it was supposed to give you a feeling of accomplishment as you leveled but some of it just feels illogical. I was a guardian who couldn't use a shield for several levels? What game does THAT?! It was especially glaring since I'd had one... and then they took it away. That first set of changes is all that I can really personally speak to since I started playing. I haven't gone far. But I will say that those first changes did take away something I had been enjoying in the game.
    I don't know what to think about the expansion. My highest character is no further than Brisban Wildlands (where he got repeatedly smashed last night because I couldn't find anything my own level or lower to do.But that's another story.) I do feel like what I'd like most when I first started went by the wayside a little with the first set of changes. Why lock out stuff like skills and vistas behind levels even if they're really low levels? I don't know. I'm used to gating because I play WoW but when I first started GW2 hadn't seemed to have it. I liked that.

    1. It's always interesting to hear reactions to the revamped New Player Experience. I spend a lot of time in Wayfarers Foothills, where many new players find their feet, and there are often long debates and discussions about it. Whatever metrics ANet might have that tell them the original leveling up process confused people I do find it hard to believe the version they've replaced it with can possibly confuse people any less. They seem just to have swapped one set of issues for another.

      When I get time, which I will soon because I'm coming into a period of several extended breaks from work, I'm going to level up a character on my new account and see what the full revised leveling run is like, unmediated by previous account-based unlocks. That will be instructive, although of course I can't remove my existing knowledge and understanding of the game, it's locations and mechanics.

  2. So, where does that article title come from? I can't place it, but I love it.


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