The parts of the game under focus were World vs World and the Heart of Thorns maps, all of which received substantial makeovers or, in the case of HoT, nerfs. Seldom can such extreme pruning and cutting have been greeted with such enthusiasm.
The ever-unpopular Desert Borderlands had their barricades torn down, their bridges widened and their annoying House of Fun mechanics toned down or switched off altogether. Where once awkward jump pads or dangerous scrambles provided the fastest routes now hastily bodged-in ramps make access to key areas faster and less fatal.
That all went down well with everyone other than the awkward cusses who professed to have liked the DBLs all along, although I can sense a certain nervousness around the impending return of the Alpine Borderlands among those who can now see the potential in the new maps that was previously hidden behind the Extreme Sports aesthetic.
Almost universally welcomed was the addition of sPvP style "Reward Tracks" to WvW. I've long been of the belief that adding extrinsic rewards to game modes in order to encourage more people to try them is counter-productive. There's some real-world evidence for this.
Given that "lack of rewards" has been one of the top three complaints about WvW since launch, though, rather than fight the concept I can only comment on the execution, which is not at all bad. It's a cut-and-paste from SpVP, for sure, with just one new track specific to WvW added, but it adds some flavor and more stuff is more stuff, however you cut it.
One very clever move was giving Commanders the option to allocate a portion of the reward credit accrued by a squad to specific squaddies, who might be away from the main action on guard or scout duty, tagging siege or walking the commander's basenji.
The main problem with that is that it feeds off a new "Participation" mechanic, whereby players' activity is tallied over the fifteen minute intervals between "ticks", finalizing and handing out permanent reward credit only at the "tick", when the War Score is incremented. That just happens to be the exact same mechanic that this patch removed from the PvE Heart of Maguuma maps (the new, official, name for what has sometimes been referred to as Magus Falls). A little consistency would be nice.
Last night the second shoe dropped for WvW as
It hasn't been half a day yet so how all this will pan out is anyone's guess but by far the strongest reaction on the forums was outrage at the huge queues, hundreds strong and hours long, that most servers had at reset. I suspect that will be seen as a big win at Anet Towers. If nothing else the changes will have at least attracted the interest of a lot of dormant players who are now piling back in to see if the game they didn't like enough to keep playing has anything left to offer.
That, in a nutshell, is the overriding theme of the Spring Update: do whatever it takes to get people back through the doors. The suspicion is that Heart of Thorns under-performed at launch and then proceeded to tank hard, dragging the rest of the game down with it. Colin Johansen fell (or was pushed) onto his sword, leaving Mike "Two Hats" O'Brien to awaken from his slumber, remount his shining charger and ride in to Save The Game.
And on this evidence he just might. The WvW changes, while not by any means perfect or complete, have been better received than anything done for or to the game mode since launch. The threads on the Forum are positively glimmering with faint praise. As for the downgrades to difficulty and upgrades to rewards for PvE in Heart of Thorns, if map chat is anything to go by people there are even happier.
No longer do you need to commit a minimum of an hour, maybe as long as two, just to be sure of getting the loot you came for. Participation has been replaced by straightforward as-it-happens, by the event rewards. You can drop in, do two or three events and leave or you can stay all day; it's up to you. Either way you get something worth having.
And what you get has improved. A lot. The reward tables have been fleshed out and plumped up. The various chests have more in them and better. The event rewards have a chance for desirable drops including Ascended items. The rate at which the various map currencies accrue is many times faster.
There's a permanent 50% increase in xp for killing mobs, the hated "diminishing returns" debuff that discouraged farming and grinding is gone, there's increased frequency of access and reduced difficulty for Adventures. Many existing events have been restructured and many new events added to facilitate solo and small group play.
I soloed one Veteran mob last night that was flagged as an event. It took about twenty seconds (berserker staff ele - ymmv) and I got better rewards than I would have expected from fifteen or twenty minutes of Old HoT.
Oh, and you now get a free upgrade to level 80 with every purchase of Heart of Thorns, complete with all the gear you need and all the waypoints opened so you can jump straight into the expansion content without any of that tedious leveling nonsense. If you already have HoT and all your character slots are filled with 80s, don't worry - you get a big pack of goodies including dyes and some gold.
ANet are on a major love offensive with this update, that's obvious. The "new" regime is clearly prepared to break with any and all of the precepts of the team that got us to where we were until last Tuesday. The new mantra is "give the punters what they want". We even got autoloot in WvW and our old fireball graphics back. It's almost as though someone was actually listening to feedback!
Take dungeons: I don't do them myself so I have no anecdotal evidence to offer but it looks as though there has been a complete climb down on the aggressive decision taken months ago to all but kill that game mode off. Now the talk is all about how that was "unnecessary" and there are new rewards and plenty of encouragement to get back underground.
There's more - a lot more. It's all in the mother of all patch notes if anyone wants the full details. The key takeaway, though, is that this seems to be about the best-received update I can remember for the game and that's almost entirely down to a complete 180 degree change of direction.
This update acknowledges what the majority of players and commentators have been saying for half a year or more: Heart of Thorns was misconceived, aimed at the wrong demographic (and missed it, too) and was bad for the future of the game. I actually liked HoT a lot more than I expected but I'm certain I'd have liked it a lot more, even than that, had it launched in this latest version.
The "Buy Heart of Thorns" pop up is back in the corner of the screen for my non-HoT accounts. Having done the unpleasant and humiliating work to make the expansion more palatable to those players who voted without their wallets, ANet naturally want to reap the reward of more sales.
I would already have recommended HoT because, as I said, I've enjoyed it and I feel I got my money's worth long ago. This re-envisioning is even easier to recommend. It's slicker, more polished, better-targeted and more accessible. Whereas I previously had no plans to add HoT to my second or third accounts, not because of the value but because I wouldn't have wanted to repeat the required grind, now it's quite likely that one or both will receive the upgrade at some point.
GW2's Spring Update isn't a second coming on the scale of FFXIV:A Realm Reborn but it's a major change of direction that bodes very favorably indeed for the second expansion. If they really have learned their lesson, as, on this evidence, it appears they may have, then the next expansion could be a real cracker!