It's not unusual for the GW2 forums to blow up over some perceived injustice, of course. More like business as usual. Even so, a rebellion of this magnitude is hard to ignore.
ArenaNet have made some effort of late to show willing when it comes to engaging with their public over contentious in-game issues. It's perhaps harder for them than for other game developers because of the strict policy of "we don't talk about what we're doing until we actually do it" that they've employed for as long as anyone can remember.
Still, even they appear to have realized that following that line with fanatical zeal causes more problems than it solves. Hence the following announcement from Colin Johanson:
"While we never like to rush and make snap decisions, in particular with a game that’s basically been out less than three days; I think there are some fair points in here for us to discuss. Much like other feedback about HoT, we’ll be discussing this as well!"
So, expect a row-back on difficulty or a reduction in requirements or possibly even the conversion of the entire system from Character to Account Based. Conceivably all three at once, I guess.
It's always a difficult balancing act. The expansion has, as Colin says, only been out for a weekend. New content in MMOs almost always seems a lot harder when it first drops than it will ever feel again in the lifetime of the game. Without making any changes at all, things that seemed impossible yesterday will most likely look manageable by next week and downright easy by Wintersday.
In some ways it might be more logical to open with a lower level of difficulty and tweak it upwards as players gain knowledge and their characters gain power but MMOs rarely take that risk. Few players respond well to having the edge taken off their swords.
It leaves developers trying to present content that isn't off-putting now yet will still have some appeal throughout the months and possibly years before it's replaced. Don't fancy that job much.
In this case, however, while the "difficulty" is part of the issue (Hero Challenges in Heart of Thorns are, by and large, not soloable) the real bone of contention is content gating. A lot of people - and judging by that thread it really is a lot of people - were under the impression they'd bought new Elite Specializations they could use right away.
They weren't planning on having to explore their way across several very confusing, and dangerous new maps to find twenty or thirty Hero Challenges before they could fire up their Scrapper or Chronomancer and take it for a run. It seems many of them were kind of planning on making that the first thing they did after HoT finished patching so having to wait hours, let alone days or even weeks has come as something of a surprise.
There are those who just power through, naturally. By Saturday word was that it took around nineteen straight hours to grind out the points for one full Elite Spec. Obsessive, yes, but at least once it's done it's done, right?
Well, not if you happen to have one of each class, which quite a few players do. Or more than one. GW2 has been famously friendly towards those who like to make lots of characters. With a level 80 of each of the nine classes just getting Elite Specs for all of them while playing a generous thirty hours a week would take something like a month and a half if that's all you did. And to add insult to injury you'd have to do the exact same content all nine times.
Clearly that's a worst-case scenario but it points up the core issue: the Elite Specs are gated behind repetitive content. That's not an image that fits GW2's supposedly open, jump in and play playstyle.
Heart of Thorns is big on gates. This is just the squeakiest. Raids, we hear, will be gear-gated, and the storyline is gated by Masteries. That's mildly annoying although it makes some kind of internal sense.
The idea is to introduce players to the various skills and concepts they'll need to explore the open maps, also gated by Masteries, by building them into the stages of the Personal Story as it crosses the landscape. That has the side-effect of predicating which Masteries a player chooses to open, which is unfortunate to put it politely.
For example, I would have preferred to train Glider to V before starting on either Nunoch or Exalted Lore but at the grindingly slow pace they unlock to do so would mean leaving the story for a week or two. Chances of avoiding spoilers by then? Slim. Not to mention that the story is actually rather interesting and I'd like to follow it to the end before I forget what happened at the beginning.
It would have been better in retrospect to have given the player character these abilities, temporarily, as they entered each instance that required them. That would have had the dual benefits of introducing the skills and creating a desire for them yet leaving it to the player to allocate his or her priorities and time outside the storyline.
I do believe these design decisions, which must be difficult to make at the best of times, have been taken with the best interests of the players in mind. Often players really don't have the clearest view of what's good for the long-term health of the game. Although it's true that there's a commercial requirement to keep people playing I don't really buy the argument that the motivation behind all this is based on stretching a small amount of content out for as long as possible.
Nevertheless, while the intention may have been to introduce people to the new movement and language skills gently and steadily and to make opening the Elite Specializations meaningful and satisfying, the effect has been almost the reverse. That's dangerous. Angry players who feel they've been short-changed or tricked don't make the best long-term customers and they certainly don't make good advocates for the game.
It may be true - I think it probably is - that there are far more players playing and enjoying HoT than posting angrily on the forums but those players aren't the ones making the news. Therefore it looks odds on that HoT will get easier sooner than the developers intended.
The Countryside Code says you should always "leave gates as you find them" but Tyria's another country altogether. Let's hope they do things differently there.