Guild Wars 2 has been around for almost three years now. It promised to break the mold but in the end it broke itself. A mere nine months after launch I had already given up on the promises they'd made. It was easy. I never believed them anyway.
"GW2 for me has turned into a still-new, still-shiny version of every
other MMO. There's an increasingly big part of the game, the part the
developers seem mainly focused on and to which players are expected to
aspire, from which I have largely opted out...As for where the game is going, I suspect ArenaNet are painting
themselves into a corner with an increasingly restrictive, coercive,
hardcore end-game bolted onto a free-wheeling, roistering, genuinely
casual-friendly open-world leveling game. Unless they have better
solutions than anyone else has come up with so far this is a road that
can only lead to a fractured, dislocated playerbase where different
interest groups lobby hard for their individual, incompatible
Two and a half years later I think I might just be able to make out the faintest glimmer of one of those "better solutions" in this weekend's Heart of Thorns beta.
Not, for sure, in the fundamentally compromised version of The Manifesto under which we now operate. Remember "It all gets back to our basic design philosophy. Our games aren’t about
preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward" ? Such delicious irony.
Back in 2013 I was puzzling, as many were, over the addition of Ascended gear and the apparent willingness of GW2's core audience to accept grind-based, acquisitional gameplay, even to welcome it as aspirational. That's now embedded into the framework and here we are, anticipating eagerly the addition of new timesinks in the form of precursor crafting and new, account-bound Legendaries. If that's not the very definition of "preparing to have fun" and "grinding for a future fun reward" I don't know what is.
Then there's Verdant Brink. Good luck not "preparing to have fun" there. If you're the explorer type you'll certainly want to rush straight in and get on with it. It's visually stunning. It also has a war going on, a vicious day/night cycle, psychotically aggressive wildlife and a three-dimensionality that lets you see everything without being able to get to anything. Yet.
The peace and quiet that I lauded previously turned out to be largely unintended. A major event chain on one side of the map had stalled. On Sunday I found myself in an instance where the frogtown sequence wasn't bugged. All hell was breaking loose. That, naturally, was the time I chose to show Mrs Bhagpuss, deeply unimpressed as she was by then with the "Now! Now! Now!" action-oriented frenetic pace she'd experienced so far, that Verdant Brink does have its quieter side.
No it doesn't. It has a few quiet spots, like the Temple, with its magnificently atmospheric lighting or the oddly empty caverns, with their suspiciously climbable fungal outgrowths that don't seem to go anywhere, but pretty much anywhere you might want to go you can expect to fight all the way there and fight all the way back.
We fought. We ran. We died. Often. The novelty outweighed the frustration this time but that can only work once.
To cut ANet a little slack, it really isn't very fair to judge either Verdant Brink or Heart of Thorns on this limited exposure. It's not just unfair in the usual way that first impressions of MMOs are always unfair but more particularly because the whole zone has very clearly been tuned around the acquisition and possession of Masteries. With enough mastery points we'd be gliding past many of these fights, or bouncing on springy mushrooms, crossing the zone in seconds instead of slogging through it on foot, battling for every yard. Or so we imagine, anyway.
Masteries, clearly, will not be optional, not if you want to explore beyond the original game or, as we are now apparently calling it, "Pact Tyria". Without gliding and bouncing there will be parts of The Heart you'll never reach. Well, not until a Mesmer pops in to portal you. And mesmers do love to portal, bless 'em. But on your own? Not going to happen.
It sounds elitist, restrictive, dirigist and my natural inclination is to take agin it but I confess to being swayed by this explanation of why it's being done the way it is:
"We want our in-game progression to be about earning abilities that
actually make a difference to what you’re doing in the game by opening
up more of the game for you...the things you’re getting with the mastery system are very contextual
and impactful for what you’re doing in that region by opening up new
content and abilities that are more meaningful than numbers going up. We
want you to see the gliding stuff and think, ‘I wanna do that!’
That does make some kind of sense and I can attest from personal experience that it's working. A few hours before I read that quote I was hopping about on a tree branch over what looked like a mile-long fall when someone swooped past me on a glider and disappeared into the depths below. And I found myself thinking "I want to do that!".
Until then I'd been looking at Glider Mastery as a bloody nuisance. It was an injury to need the glider in the first place and an insult to have to waste my time grinding points to be able to use it. In that one moment gliding went from imposition to aspiration.
So, maybe they do have some idea what they're doing after all. Hard to believe, I know, especially on previous evidence, but maybe it will all work out for the best. After all, some of us even came to appreciate Scarlet, in the end.
One beta weekend isn't much to go on but on balance I would say I'm cautiously optimistic. Very cautious and only mildly optimistic but even that's more than I expected.