Next week sees the introduction of the first, instanced, raid "wing", Spirit Vale. Living Story 2 was heavily instanced and naturally the new Personal Story is too. Much of the game seems to be tending that way, taking it in a rather different direction from the one many of us probably imagined it would go, but still a huge amount of development time and effort is also going into large-scale, open world mega-events like the ones Ravious examines.
Unlike raids, which seem to have come out of nowhere, this was always the plan. Back in 2012, pre-launch publicity suggested two kinds of end-game equivalent for the famously end-gameless GW2: a PvE version where long, complex chains of Dynamic Events networked entire maps and open-world PvP in World vs World. It was a plan that quickly went awry.
|Yada yada. Where's the loot?|
The PvE end game, based entirely in the three southernmost maps covering the drowned lands of Orr, was not well-received. Since it was content that relied on large numbers of players it had to be heavily and repeatedly tweaked, mostly downwards in difficulty, to attract any kind of critical mass. WvW largely fell into a holding pattern as a niche activity, beloved and bemoaned in equal measure by a dedicated but not very substantial following, booming occasionally when "Seasons" attracted large swathes of PvE players looking for Achievements and material rewards.
There's much more to be said about that, and where WvW goes next, but it deserves a post of its own. Suffice it to say, with neither of the expected late-game, ongoing content models living up to expectation, ANet moved on to iterate (their favorite pastime) on a number of other means of holding onto their audience and bringing in the dollars.
There was a lot of talk about Cadences and Feature Packs and a Living World. We had overarching narratives that few had the patience or interest to sit through. The Scarlet storyline, which even makes some kind of sense now, was widely reviled and derided while it was with us although with hindsight and the rose-tinted spectacles of time it's beginning to look like some kind of Golden Age.
|They also serve, who only stand and ping.|
We had a stream of one and two time special events. The Karka Invasion, Super Adventure Box, Bazaar of the Four Winds, The Queen's Gauntlet and the rest came and went with a mystifying disregard for player interest or reaction.
Finally we came to Dry Top and a workable pattern emerged at last. The end game, at least as far as open world PvE was concerned, would, as always envisaged, come from map-wide event chains only, unlike Orr, there would be a clear, visible framework with prompts and a timer. No longer would it be left to players to initiate and organize the chains; the system would do it automatically at set, regular times.
The seeds of the concept had been planted long ago, in the scheduling of World Bosses, in the changes made to the Tequatl event and subsequently in the even more organization-dependent Triple Trouble. The move to Megaservers and the rapid development of the Taxi system on LFG largely undercut the need for the odious, elitist specialist cross-server Event guilds, allowing ad hoc PUG raids to form and organize with relative ease.
|There's always one.|
Dry Top and its neighbor, Silverwastes, the last two, new overland maps introduced before Heart of Thorns, moved the meta on from discrete events that took fifteen to thirty minutes every three or four hours to a never-ending sequence on a rolling 24 hour boil. It's a format that's proved both popular and manageable with a sizable proportion of the playerbase and in HoT it's been refined and codified for clarity and coherence.
In all four maps the meta rolls in and out like a tide. There are peaks and lulls but the waves never end. It's an ocean; you can dive deep or dip in as you will. You can surf events with the zerg or solo in the shallows but almost whatever you do you'll find yourself in the water somehow, making ripples that merge with the flow.
One of the problems of GW2's major event chains has always been players not knowing where to be or what to do. With the size, scale and ambition of the new sequences ANet have made it so that almost anything a player does contributes to the grand design. They also made a decision to take some of the responsibility for organization upon themselves.
|Is this the fail state? It all blurs into one after a while. Oh well, chests either way.|
There are frequent prompts and instructions, from NPCs in voiceover and in large bars of text across the center of the screen. The game itself gives direct instructions on what to do and when to do it. It's unsubtle but in the hurly burly it's surprisingly effective and welcome.
There are moves afoot to remove much of GW2's signature visual clutter - the blooming neon spell effects and explosions that often make it impossible even to see the larger boss mobs let alone the ground markers you're supposed to not be stepping in. The cross-screen text is visual clutter of its own but it seems like like a necessary evil right now.
Players are a lot better at spontaneous organization than some of the elitist hardcore elements like to give them credit for but nevertheless there are always plenty of people at every event who haven't been there often enough (or at all) to have a clear understanding of what's required of them. Surprisingly, not everyone reads Dulfy's superlative guides. A good Commander (or now a good Mentor) can do a lot with a map that's willing to listen but good Commanders are a finite resource. System messages are always there, they're indefatigable and they can't be trolled.
|Aghhhh! He's looking at me!!|
So, iteration seems to be doing its job for now. The framework, at least, is up and stable. Whether a larger edifice can be constructed around it seems less clear. That is, however and presumably, the plan. ANet have said they intend to develop GW2 indefinitely rather than work on a sequel. Presume they don't plan on going out of business so that means a lifetime for the game measured in many years, perhaps decades.
After three years and one expansion we have (looking just at open world end-game content) over a dozen 5-15 minute World Boss events, all on fixed timers of 2-3 hours, running 24/7. There are two longer World Boss events that take 15-30 minutes, Tequatl and Evolved Jungle Wurm. There are three open-ended full-map events, Dry Top, Silverwastes and Verdant Brink, which cycle endlessly through a sequence every couple of hours or so. Finally there are three maps that run a never-ending rotation of two hours duration, culminating in a major event or sequence of events.
That's a lot of action and most of it overlaps. Other than the original World Bosses little of it scales well; or at all. All of the newer, iterated, end-game, open world content requires fairly large numbers of players to succeed. Not always a full map but sixty or so at the low end.
|Rangers! Go South!|
Megaserver technology (when it works, which it still does not, reliably, in the new maps, despite supposedly having been fixed) and a substantial population due to the slowly fading shine of a new expansion, mean that things are bumping along not too awkwardly for the moment. Imagine the picture in a year, though, with that year's worth of new things to do added. Imagine it in five years with (let's hope) two more expansions in place.
There are only so many hours in the day and only so many players to play them. Funneling the available population into a series of five-person instanced dungeons and ten-person instanced raids is one thing: filling six, twelve or eighteen whole maps with sixty to a hundred players for an event that lasts two hours? We're going to run out of either players or hours or both and soon.
So, self-evidently, this is a model that will require further iteration. Ravious suggested some events could be moved to a longer frequency - once a day or even once a week. That would certainly work logistically but I doubt it would fly well with an audience trained to expect a much faster cadence, to revive an old buzzword. Better scaling would be another option but then, no doubt, the rewards would have to scale too and, frankly, many of them are not all that encouraging even as they stand.
|I have no idea what's going on. As usual.|
It's a problem, for sure, but in many ways it's a good problem to have. Bhelgast recently posted an excellent introduction to EQ2 in which he gives a very accurate impression of what an MMO with almost too much content looks like. I agree with everything he says except for one observation: he thinks they don't make them like that any more. I think they do and I think GW2 is one of the ones they've made.
Come back in eight years, when GW2 is the same age EQ2 is now, and take a look. If there isn't a "separated at birth" thing going on by then it will only be because of ANet's ruthless willingness to remove content that SOE/DBG would allow to accrete. Of the two approaches, ANet's is probably the wiser but I prefer the alternative. In the end I'd rather have the content there and not be able to use it effectively than have it removed altogether.
Then again, this is ANet we're talking about. Come back in three years, leave alone eight, and we might be looking at something different entirely. That's what happens when you can't stop iterating. Enjoy it while it lasts.