Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Onwards And Upwards : GW2

In much the way a new year finds players making a flurry of resolutions, predictions and goals, so this is the time of year when road maps to the future begin to roll out of MMO developers offices. This week ArenaNet published some general notes towards both their Profession Balance Goals and their wider plans..

The former is easily dismissed. Every MMO I've ever played has trudged joylessly around Escher's eternal spiral of "balance" The more classes there are the wearier the trudge becomes. Developers and elite players find themselves locked in a desperate dance of nerfs and builds, each seeking to obviate the excesses of the other.

Patch notes increasingly resemble medieval disquisitions on the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. Most players tune out entirely, while those who try to decipher the hieroglyphs find their eyes glazing over around the third bullet point.

Whatever the actual changes, once the emergency patches and server restarts required to fix the most egregious errors are done, we all settle back and wait for the grognards to codify the new meta, which we then religiously adopt (with amendments because we all know better). A few weeks later the developers shake the bag and pull out new tiles and the whole miserable process begins over again.

So, forget about that. The broader picture outlined in Colin Johanson's pretentiously titled (yes, I know, I can talk...) State of the Game Update is much more interesting, especially the part where he says

2016 will also be a turning point in the type of development we do for Guild Wars 2

Spin it how you will, this is an admission of defeat. Go back and read the mission statements on cadence and Living Story. Or just read this quote from Colin back in 2013:

Our goal is to make Guild Wars 2 the most frequently updated and best supported game experience you can find, and to that end, every two weeks there will be a release with brand new playable content and a mix of supporting features and updates across the entire game.
How did that work out for you then? Probably about as well as this:

Expansions are definitely something that we’ll potentially look at in the future," he explained. "We don’t have a timetable on it. We’re open to it, but I think our major focus as a studio is making the living world concept as strong as possibly can for the players that we’ve got.
All of which is why any road map that talks about content or changes further ahead than, say, a couple of months needs to be taken with an economy sized bag of salt.

We should at least be able to rely on the frontlisted changes coming in the first of the new Quarterly Updates. It's happening in two weeks, after all. Quarterly also sounds like a much more manageable cadence, doesn't it? Maybe it's one they'll be able to handle this time.

The big ticket announcement for Winter 2016 is Gliding In Central Tyria. We're calling it "Central Tyria" now, then? Not Core Tyria? Not Pact Tyria? Oh, wait, that's not the "big" part of the announcement, is it?

This is quite a surprise. When other MMOs have introduced free flight to older zones it's generally required a deal of background work and preparation. While many GW2 players probably hoped, even expected, this day would come, I imagine most thought they'd have a longer wait than a mere three months on from the launch of the first glider over Magus Falls.

Of course, gliding isn't flight. Gliders can only go downwards, unless there's a handy updraft nearby. Merely by declining to add those mysterious swirls of rising air developers can presumably avoid much of the heavy work required to reshape old zones for flight.

As someone pointed out in a conversation on Dulfy (or was it Reddit?) after Rubi Bayer's initial teaser, most jumping puzzles go up. To preserve the notional integrity of JPs and vistas all that's really needed is an updraft exclusion zone in the immediate area.

Somewhat to my surprise I really, really enjoy gliding in Heart of Thorns. I've spent more time than I like to admit simply gliding around Verdant Brink for the sheer, exhilarating fun of it, trying to see how high I can get. Much like flying in Vanguard, gliding in GW2 doesn't need much of a purpose beyond wheeeeeeeeee!

That's a plus, then. And if they add it to WvW as well, where the new maps seem to have been made specifically with gliding in mind, we could have a whole new game. Imagine dropping shells on keeps or zergs the way we bomb Mordremoth in the final battle for Dragon's Stand.

Next on Colin's tick list is a revamp of The Shatterer. For those not in the know, The Shatterer is the lieutenant of Elder Dragon Kralkatorrik. Shat's main claim to fame, apart from being the instigator of a thousand scatological puns, is his deep and abiding inability to turn his head to the right.

Every three hours or so a huge gang of players gathers on a small hillock just to the lee of his right shoulder. As he stands helplessly, roaring and rearing and breathing his crystalline breath directly ahead, the zerg indulges in fatuous, excrement-based banter as they batter away at his exposed flank. Then he dies and we take his stuff.

Presumably the plan is to re-tool the "fight" into something at least on a par with Jormag, which has two phases, takes about fifteen to twenty minutes, and at a bare minimum requires players to move about occasionally. More likely it will get an upgrade to match Tequaatl, for which a modicum of both organization and attention are required.

While it's been handy to have Shat as a punching bag all these years, even I wouldn't claim the event has ever been fun. I used to enjoy the original Tequaatl battle and even now I'd have it back in preference to the current version but I won't be sorry to see The Shatterer get a makeover.

Colin's batting two for two. Keep it up. What's next? Ah, Fractal of the Mist updates. Pass.

Okay, I do have one thing to say about that, but it comes from much later in the notes, towards the end, when Colin's moved away from the Winter Update to cover plans going through the year. At this point he confirms there will be some new fractals.

Given that fractals were first introduced, what, three years ago, and we've had the same nine ever since, you'd have to say it's about time. Oh, wait, there was that one we voted for at Kiel's election, wasn't there? Did that ever happen? I lost interest when Evon was robbed of his rightful victory.

Hmm. Looking at Colin's post I can see that if I carry on picking over it section by section this is going to overrun. By a lot. Let's skip all the WvW stuff, save to say that almost everyone I've seen or heard comment on it, who actually plays WvW regularly, thinks the upcoming changes are positive. That's a first!

The real changes for WvW, the ones that will effectively relaunch the entire game mode in a format barely recognizable, are still out there in the long grass somewhere. Until then everyone's just marking time.

What else is there? Oh yes, event credit for Healers and Support Builds. This is something that should have been an integral part of the game from launch. How is it even still a thing three and a half years on? File under "Better Late Than Never" and let's hope it actually works.

The remaining odds and ends - tweaks to squads, a new "Mist Champion" for the new sPvP map, some new key binding options - deserve a line or two in a patch note, not a paragraph each in a PR post. There is one intriguing little squib, though: The Eldvin Monastery Brew of the Month Club.

Apparently "Once a month, when visiting a major city, club members will receive a package in the mail containing that month’s finely crafted brew. After collecting all twelve brews, club members will receive a title, a brewer’s backpack skin, and a guild decoration in recognition of their devotion to the craft." So that's a Monthly Log In Reward, then, is it? See you in January 2017 with my backpack and a hangover!

All in all it's encouraging. A lot of it I'll believe when I see it, like Living Story 3 and the WvW re-envisioning but at least, on paper, it looks good. It's very nice to see the first acknowledgment that there will indeed be a second expansion, too, even if it is thrown away in a couple of passing remarks. I wonder where we'll go next?

Until then, let's enjoy the holidays. Next up: Lunar New Year. Dragonball!


  1. While I agree that the Shatterer fight needs a good bit of a buff, I'll be sad if it goes the way of Tequatl. I gave up ever trying to finish a Tequatl fight after the change. I just want to show up and have fun taking down a boss dragon with a group of people. I'm getting tired (long have been) of their "challenge" changes.

    What makes me most sad is that if they continue on this route, there will eventually be no large open-world bosses that won't require raid-precise mechanics and organization. Yes, I'm aware there are a few more bosses out there, but every dragon they tweak to raid level is one less dragon the overall community can do without jumping on a TeamSpeak. That's a real bummer to me, and goes against what I feel was the original vision of GW2. :(

    1. It did look like that was the way it was going to go for a while but slowly they (and the players) seem to be getting somewhere in shouting distance of a sweet spot, where the big open world events are intricate enough to be interesting and yet forgiving enough to allow for a random bunch of passers-by to complete them.

      Teq, for example, hasn't needed voice coms or more than about five minutes prep time for a long while. If you just turn up a few minutes before he appears there's a very good chance you'll get a map than can kill him since the event almost always succeeds now.

      The big events in HoT fail more and require more leadership but they also give a lot of interim and on-fail rewards so it doesn't feel like a waste of time when things go pear-shaped. And contrary to my expectations the new squad set-up has made things a lot clearer and more democratic.

      It's definitely not the same all-pile-on vision we saw at launch but it's a big improvement over where I thought the game was heading, say, a year ago.

    2. Thanks for the update - admit it's been a while since I've played anything serious in GW2. Back when I left, the required voice comms for Tequatl were still a thing, and left a lasting sour impression.

      If they can provide a challenge in overworld bosses that doesn't leave out the casual folks that just show up at the door, I don't have as much problem with it. I'm all for needing to understand mechanics of a fight, I just don't like overworld content that became exclusive to big guilds who taxied away everyone to some distant map and left the rest of us unable to come anywhere close to a win.

  2. Gliding in Central Tyria or whatever they like to call it opens up new avenues for min-maxing the physical world. It also diminishes the value of the terrain to the extent that it can be bypassed. Even with designated no-fly zones, void jumpers and path optimizers will find ways to do interesting things that negate physical terrain as has been done in other games. We know from experience that Guild Wars 2's many players will optimize everything to the extreme. We will thus see armies of gliders completing events in record time throughout Central Tyria. The masses of angel-winged Kasmeers will now be able to actually use those wings.

    I'm not sure I like it. It trivializes mobility in a way that rubs against the spirit of adventure that the game originally championed. It’s fine for the new maps – almost a necessity, perhaps, given the verticality and organic terrain involved. I suppose it would be fine for WvW bombing runs as well and, again, perhaps a necessity given the scale of the maps (mayhap the maps were originally designed with gliding in mind in the first place and they just never told us?). For Central Tyria, however, it pains this crabby recluse to see the equivalent of the addition of mounts to the "core" game. We were already zipping around the world via waypoints and portals and such. Grumble, grumble.

    1. I think there's a real irony here. Presumably most min-maxers are primary Achievers. To them things like trivializing content and optimizing efficiency matter. For them it is indeed possible that gliding will mean another means to an end.

      For Explorers, though, the thrill is in the freedom it brings. Anything that enhances the ability to move in a new direction has to be good. For a primary Explorer there can be no trivializing of exploration. It's never, ever about overcoming challenges. It's always about seeing what's over the next hill.

      The two clans, given the same opportunities, will never use them in the same way. So, yes, there will be unintended consequences as each looks past the other and sees a different horizon.

      As for mounts, I always felt the decision to avoid them was at best arbitrary and at worst vindictive. Now that we have mounted NPCs that view has shifted to the latter. Let's be honest, they just don't want the expense of animating them. There's no conceivable lore reason to justify entire populations running everywhere on foot when all around them are draft animals pulling wagons. Not to mention helicopters, air balloons, tanks and robot chauffeurs!

    2. If gliding enhances one's sense of wonder, then I suppose my sentiment would be misplaced. My feeling was that gliding around in the core world in which starting areas and such find themselves would cheapen the experience.

      I suppose I should be welcoming in a new era of exploration and discovery.

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    1. I never understood exactly the need developers, urged by hordes of players (guess that is the reason), have to have a roadmap.

      It doesn't matter what their roadmap looks like. In two weeks or 2 months it will all be changed.

      The best part is that it is actually good that it is in permanent change, cause I can guarantee you that what the developers think players want and what players want aren't the same thing. Players rarely know what they want and have no idea how to implement it when they know.

      I remember players passionately and endlessly debating about mana potions, mana costs for GW2 skills and microtransactions, years before the game actually released.

      2 of those 3 things never made into the game.

      Don't people like surprises? What is the point of knowing everything before having the chance to play it?

      ->They will release content at some cadence that will change according to their internal metrics.
      ->They will release more gem store items.
      ->They will look at feedback and look at internal metrics and make some wrong decisions.
      ->They will look at feedback and look at internal metrics and make some right decisions.
      ->They will change things.
      ->They will support the game.
      ->Some of the things they said they will do will never happen. Others only much later.
      ->They will do some things that noone guessed and weren't talked.

    2. Yes, "Road Maps" seem to have become a must-have for MMOs and yet they are rarely followed. They generate interest and discussion and news reports and free PR though so I guess that's the reason.

      My very strong feeling is that neither developers nor players have much of a clear idea of either what they want or need out of an MMO. The developers do sometimes seem to have a better handle on what serves the long-term interest of the game but that mostly relates to how they can monetize it most successfully, which isn't the same thing at all as making it better.

      In the end I am generally happy to take what I'm given and then complain about it. Complaining is fun.


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