GW2's large-scale, open world, siege-based, three team PvPvE game mode, the wobbly third leg on the game's rickety tripod, had been limping in slow circles through the doldrums of neglect for the best part of year when HoT arrived. Never the success it was hoped, WvW had been intended to act as a kind of end-game for all; instead it had long ago settled, some would say slumped, into a specialist niche.
For a while the incursion of semi-regular "Seasons" into the endless, Valhallan cycle of weekly matches, succeeded in drawing the uncommitted, the curious and, especially, the acquisitive. The lure of Achievements and Titles and Stuff filled the Alpine Borderlands (then known only as The Borderlands) with nervous neophytes slumming it from PvE. Some of them even learned to like it and hung around.
|Unravel the ancient mysteries of a lost civilization. Or just get a great tan.|
Once Seasons fell into abeyance due to ANet's secret and as-yet unannounced plans, interest beyond the hardcore drained away fast. By the summer of '15 WvW was bumping along the bottom. Or so we imagined.
Only when Heart of Thorns arrived did we realize just how much further there was to fall. By then, Yaks Bend had been a Tier 1 server for a while. Even playing as we do just outside North American prime time, Mrs Bhagpuss and I had become used to seeing lengthy queues on two or three maps every evening. Come the weekend it was sometimes just too busy to bother and we tended to give WvW a miss until things quietened down.
The Desert Borderlands put paid to that little problem. It's been many weeks since I've seen a queue anywhere other than Eternal Battlegrounds. EBG, as it's known, was the only one of the four WvW maps not to be replaced. In one of the most striking examples I've ever seen of customers voting with their feet, almost the entire remaining population of WvW moved from their homelands to the contested but familiar territory of EBG.
|What the heck is that thing?|
The other three maps, featuring one of ANet's artists' finest ever creations, a stunningly beautiful, intricate, hauntingly mysterious landscape just begging to be explored, lay neglected, unused. Unused, at least, for their intended purpose, conflict. Instead they formed the backdrop for a desultory cavalcade of uncontested keep-takes as small zergs rotated the points.
That was in Tier 1. Several rungs down the ladder, as it bounces between Tiers 4 and 5, Ehmry Bay is home to my third account. Prior to Heart of Thorns, while we never had queues at the times of day I played, there was always a Commander organizing on the home Borderland and operations happening around the maps.
Now I had the place to myself. I could have been playing a single player game. Each day I trotted up to do my dailies - taking a sentry point and killing a dolyak, two of my favorites - secure in the knowledge that no-one from any other team was likely to try to stop me.
|It's a desert, Jim, but not as we know it.|
The silence and solitude were very useful. I was able to spend a lot of time learning the new layout, studying the mechanics, developing, testing and perfecting tactics for taking camps and smaller objectives on my own. It reminded me strongly of happy days spent scouting and clearing orc camps in the snows of Velious a decade and more ago.
It was, in other words, jolly good solo PvE. World vs World it paramountly was not.
Everyone seemed somewhat taken aback by the changes. Anet had chosen to trial the Desert Borderlands only in small, closed beta tests, before an invited audience. Although there was no NDA, surprisingly little information had filtered out. I tried to follow the discussion but, really, there wasn't one.
When the new maps and their significantly different mechanics finally arrived the reaction was hostile. Voices raised in favor were few and often qualified. The more, the most, common reaction was denial. These aren't the maps we want. We never asked for them. We're not going to use them.
And people left. For once, there was much else to do. A whole new expansion's worth. In retrospect, launching the new version of WvW at the same time as a large tranche of PvE progression, new sPvP content and the long-awaited (or dreaded) introduction of highly competitive raiding was not the cleverest of timing.
|Oh, come on! Now you're just trolling.|
Absolutely no-one who wasn't already playing WvW paid the changes even the slightest attention. Why would they? They were way down at the end of a long shopping list of far more interesting items, to be gotten to sometime, never.
Among the committed WvW core there was mostly consternation. There are people who only play WvW. They could hardly avoid the changes, although most wished they could and many tried. Some soldiered on but this was the demographic most disturbed by the upheaval.
We had players whose entire game-life revolved around sitting in keeps and towers watching for invaders. Every day. For hours. Overnight their entire purpose was removed. There were no invaders, not any more.
We had players who spent their mornings or afternoons building and maintaining siege, running supply and fortifying structures. Now no siege was needed and structures fortified themselves. Those players, for years among the most committed and appreciated, found themselves out of a job.
Most WvW players, however, also play other game modes. For them it was a very simple choice. They just gave up coming to the Borderlands at all.
Why would they? They didn't like the new maps, which were confusing, difficult to navigate, clearly designed with flight in mind and yet forbidden. The maps were empty so there was no-one to fight. Anyone who wanted fights was in EBG.
|You want big fights? This is big fights.|
The rest, which was almost everyone, was in Verdant Brink or Auric Basin, complaining about the grind or gosh-wowing about gliding or pushing through the story. Reports began to surface about the amazing final battle in Dragon's Stand, possibly the best large-scale event ANet had ever done and after that came the first Raid and of course there was Halloween and Wintersday, the two biggest holidays of Tyria's year and then the big money sPvP tournament started...
Well, with all that going on, no-one cared about WvW any more. The maps were horrible, no-one understood them, commanders didn't want to run them, and anyway the scoring system was as broken as it had always been so what was the point? WvW was as near to dead as it could be without actually being buried and forgotten.
Cue graphics: a gnarled, grasping hand thrusts up through the fresh-dug earth, clutching at a lowering, storm-filled sky. Three months on and the corpse begins to stir.
This last week or two has seen more activity than any time since before HoT landed. We had commanders with followings on three maps at once over the weekend. There have been big battles over keeps on home BLs. And this isn't just on Yaks Bend. I spent fifty minutes with an EBay commander last week, trying to take a single heavily-defended tower from Maguuma (and how good was it to be fighting Maguuma again? Boy, I've missed them).
|I taunt you with my unplayable Tengu!|
Gradually, very slowly, as people finish up their initial goals in the new maps and the last of the new car smell fades from the expansion, the WvW softcore is drifting back. Meanwhile the hardcore, particularly the command structure, has acclimatized. Commanders actually know how to lead a zerg from Impassive Rampart to Fire Keep without falling in the lava lake now. Players are beginning to get an inkling of how the Shrine buffs can change tactics, of when it's advisable to complete or counter the Oasis event, of where to place siege so it actually hits something.
It's been a steep learning curve and plenty have fallen off. Finally, though, some have made it to the top and others have picked themselves up and started to climb again. Just in time for today's Winter 2016 Quarterly Update to shake the ladder and send everyone flying in all directions.
Later today we'll get the first big, new content update since Heart of Thorns. It includes a major revamp to The Shatterer event, complete with a full set of achievements, the addition of gliding to all original open-world maps, the Lunar New Year holiday event and a bunch of smaller tweaks and changes.
It also includes some significant changes to the mechanics of WvW, almost all of which have been, perhaps for the first time in the history of the game, very warmly received by the people who actually play that game mode. Structures will still update automatically but only if the dolyaks get in, bringing purpose back to roaming and scouting. Player kills will increment war score, making skirmishing purposeful.
|Last one to the Tower buys the drinks!|
Most welcomed of all, only one opposing player will rally off the death of an opponent, down from five, and fully dead players will have to wait until combat around them has ended before they can expect to be rezzed. Those changes should significantly impact the ability of large, loose zergs to overpower smaller, more disciplined groups. Weight of numbers will still tell, but not in the overwhelming way it has until now.
Or so it's hoped. As always there may be unforeseen and unintended consequences. At the very least, though, these appear to be changes made in response to genuine concerns expressed by players who play WvW, not whipped up on the back of an envelope and dropped in on a whim to the mystification of all.
How long it will be before the full WvW revamp ANet aren't saying. What the game will look like after it comes, well they're not talking about that either. Rumor has it that Worlds themselves will be going away in favor of some as yet ill-explained Guild-based structure.
I had thought that, if that worst-case scenario did come true, the end of Yaks Bend would probably mean the end of WvW for me but, yet again, HoT threw me a swerve. In preparation for the changes to Guilds I joined a very large WvW focused guild, one that's synonomous with WvW on Yaks Bend and has been since the day the server opened.
It's a guild with absolute server loyalty, a guild that has never transferred servers and will never transfer servers. If ANet cut Yaks Bend away from under us, we will be Yaks Bend. In the meantime, the fight goes on. For The Yak! whatever the rules, whatever the map!