"Guild Wars 2 makes me sad, it’s a game I loved for a year or so after launch and played with close friends and family. As you said in your post, I didn’t feel like the game was catering to my sort of player anymore, especially with Living Story season 2. I doubt they’ll come back to what the game was at launch, why would they? But that’s the game I wanted to play."
This is a sentiment often expressed, both by ex-players and some who still play. I've said much the same myself, often. I wonder, though, how true is it, really?
For quite a while, years, the infamous Manifesto would get dragged out and waved about like a torn and bloodied flag. That happens less now, although it's been linked and excerpted several times on this very blog, mostly when I wanted to rail against some betrayal of faith or hold some errant dev to account.
If the brave claims and promises of that proud document were ever enacted in the game itself, though, it was only briefly. People talk about the second Living Story marking a step-change for the game, the moment when most of the lore action moved to instances that could be packaged for cash shop sale, but the first and so far only expansion, Heart of Thorns, seems to be the tipping point most commonly defined.
My contention has always been that if GW2 did lose its way, the turn from the righteous path was taken long, long before any of that. The only version of GW2 that resembled the vision so energetically promoted in dev blogs and PR promos throughout the long march to launch was the one we saw in the six beta weekends and in the game's first three months. Everything since then has been ANet's New Game Experience.
And it did. Player feedback was so virulent, so corrosive, the entire direction of the game changed as a result. The fundamental conception of the GW2 project, that there would be a dynamic, unpredictable, ever-changing world that players could affect and be affected by, was abandoned almost overnight.
From then until now the direction of development has been focused on making as certain as possible that no-one can say they didn't have at least a fair chance to do everything. If it isn't exactly "all must win prizes" it's certainly "all must have an equal opportunity to win prizes". And, failing that, buy them.
|Maybe I did buy my hat in the Gem Shop. What's it to you, pal?|
The result has been a relentless slide towards predictability. Everything happens on a schedule. There is always a tick list. Some things have a limited duration, it's true, but the limit is measured in weeks. Any sense of event or surprise is meticulously excised. There must never be any suggestion that anyone might miss out on anything.
It took a long time and many of ANet's famous iterations before these processes were sufficiently codified, tested and confirmed. The first season of the Living Story failed to take replayable accessibility into account, an error that means it cannot now, years later, be offered to those who missed it, tied up in neat Gem Shop bundles the way Seasons Two and Three have been. There are still plaintive posts about that on the forums now and again.
Once the revisionist steamroller began to pick up pace, though, it flattened everything. Megaserver tech removed variations between worlds, annihilating server cultures and collapsing alternate timelines. No more guesting to find a version of Tyria where the battle against Zhaitan's Risen was succeeding when it had failed in your own.
|Even in the days of the Megaserver a very late map can give you that 3-man Maw experience you crave.|
World bosses lost their power to surprise, weak as it was. Instead of a somewhat randomized "window" in which they might appear they were all issued with a strict schedule. Every quarter of an hour, to the second, a specific major threat would step out from behind the curtain, make a short speech and wait to die. There's a timetable.. More than that, there's a train.
I could go on. For four and a half years, beginning immediately after the perceived failure of the Karka Invasion of Lion's Arch, GW2 has stumbled towards order. The game that exists now, the game many ex-players dislike and avoid, is merely the later stage of the process that has been with us almost from the start.
Like the apocryphal frog who never notices the warming water it may be that those of us who stayed don't realize the trouble we're in. That's not quite how I see it. More likely, I think, the changes most widely reported and condemned seem more onerous, more divisive, less optional, when seen from the outside, than they really are.
|Yes, I heard you the last seven hundred times.|
Raids, for example, are entirely ignorable in exactly the same way raids have been entirely ignorable in every MMO I have ever played. No-one needs to raid. Most MMO players never raid. Raids stand to core GW2 play as sPvP used to and still does stand. If you played GW2 in 2012 and never felt like you "had" to do sPvP then you can equally play GW2 in 2017 and never feel like you "have" to raid.
Fractals, that infinite hamster wheel of achievement, are equally avoidable. What happens in Fractals stays in Fractals. Don't do them and you will never need to do them.
Ascended armor, the once controversial extra gear tier ANet either said they'd never add or always said they'd add depending who you believe, is a useful but absolutely optional addition. If you do choose to raid you'll need it because raiding is about marginal efficiency. If you WvW it's better to have it than not but only if you WvW seriously, with the whole VOIP and guild-build nine yards.
If you're raiding or WvWing in that manner then getting good is part of the deal you accepted. Everyone else - just chill! There is nothing anywhere else in the game you can't do in Exotics. Frankly, I doubt there's much you can't do in Rares. And you absolutely can WvW in Rares - I have characters doing it all the time - when there's a map call and I'm at the bank in Citadel I go with whoever I happen to be. You don't have to wear pink to fire an Arrow Cart or fix a gate.
|Map calls know no color.|
Heart of Thorns is an issue. Not having that flag on your account is a limiter, there's no denying. There's still a lot you can do without HoT but ANet's clear intent is to tie most new content to ownership of the expansion even when the content doesn't happen there.
After nearly five years, though, it hardly seems unreasonable to ask people who want to do anything more than dabble in the game to pony up just once more. Or, indeed, just once if it really is the first time.
And contrary to what you may have heard, Heart of Thorns is good. It's beautiful, it's content rich, it's varied and above all it's fun. It never was anywhere even close to being as "challenging" as the reviews suggested but what little added difficulty it ever offered has long since been nerfed into history.
|I've been wearing this outfit since 2012 and I see no reason to change.|
Masteries are mostly soloable and enjoyable to collect. The big events mostly run regularly and successfully even now, something that still surprises me. If you prefer to potter and wander and explore, though, then the Heart of Maguuma is your playground. And gliding in Verdant Brink is worth the price of entry on its own.
So, the game absolutely isn't what it was, or what they promised it would be, but then, when was it? That time was so short it seems like a dream. If I hadn't recorded how it was back then I'd scarcely believe it ever happened.
All MMOs change, at least while they live. GW2 has changed, for the worse and for the better. Whether it's shifted further, either way, than any other MMO I've played I somewhat doubt, although, maybe, it stumbled and lurched a little more along the way, trying to get there. I'm pretty sure it did that.
I wouldn't let what it's become stop me enjoying what remains of what it used to be, though. There's plenty left. And more besides.