Saturday, May 12, 2018

There's Something In The Water! : GW2

Underwater content has never been popular in MMORPGs. I remember my first, terrifying trip to Kedge Keep in EverQuest as if it was...well, as if it was almost twenty years ago, which it was.

I do remember it, though. How could I forget?  All those disorienting angles and squirming perspectives; never being sure which way was up; the claustrophobia, the muffled underwater clangor, the ever-present threat of drowning, the nauseating prospect of failure and the inevitable, awful return trip to find my corpse

The undersea worlds of most MMOs weren't quite so unforgiving but still they were shunned. Developers tended to avoid them too, other than blocking out something wet and watery in the most perfunctory manner possible. It was quite a surprise when Guild Wars 2 launched with a goodly amount to see and do below the surface, any number of bodies of water, from inland lakes to the open seas, offering much the same opportunity and inducement to explore as their counterparts on dry land.

Not only were there plenty of Points of Interest and Hero Challenges (or whatever we called them back then) but the whole signature Dynamic Event system extended into the deep. There were even special underwater weapons, breathing masks and a whole set of unique underwater skills for every class.

All that effort and players still hated to get their feet wet. Map completion meant most had to duck their heads beneath the waves at least a few times but once that was out of the way not too many came back to take the plunge a second time.

After a while ANet seemed to give up on the whole idea. The entire lake that formed the centerpiece of the Alpine Borderlands maps in World vs World was summarily removed, along with the quaggans and their weather machine and when the first expansion, Heart of Thorns, arrived, the only water in the entire affair was confined to some tunnels deep under Rata Novus.

Most tellingly of all, the one new class introduced since launch didn't even get the standard choice of two underwater weapons. Revenants had to make do with nothing but a spear. Then again, Rytlock, who returned from The Mists to bring the secrets of the class to Tyria, is a charr. Maybe he just didn't want to get his fur wet.

ANet doubled down on the underwater content drought with the second expansion. Path of Fire, literally takes place in a desert (as do most of the many maps added with the Living Story). By now, new underwater content for GW2 seemed about as likely as playable Tengu - and about a million times less wanted.

Then this week, with no fanfare or warning other than a brief PR flurry, the game received a full revamp to all underwater skills. Revenants even acquired a second underwater weapon, the Trident.

Even the official website  admits, with what can only be described as severe understatment, that "We know [underwater combat] isn’t floating at the top of everyone’s request list". It's the change few wanted and even fewer were asking for. So why do it? And why now?

That's the 64 fathom question alright. Given ANet's long-established unwillingness to rush into anything - ever - let alone to commit resources to anything they don't see as essential to the long-term health of the game, it's all but impossible to imagine a major revamp of this kind being sanctioned just because the current version wasn't up to snuff aesthetically

After all, we've muddled along just fine with the original version for nearly six years. It was already arguably the best implementation of underwater combat anywhere in MMOs and still hardly anyone liked it, wanted it or used it.

There was certainly no indication of a valid reason for the changes in the update notes. Along with the complete rewriting of underwater combat, all we got was a series of Achievements that revolve around a single new Daily "quest". It's a nice addition and very welcome but it goes absolutely no distance at all towards justifying the expenditure of effort required in the revamp.

All of which leaves me to wonder what the future holds? A Living World map that's largely underwater? A new, underwater fractal? Even the two together would seem to be a couple of smallish dogs trying to wag a much larger tail.

Could they possibly be considering an underwater setting for the third expansion? Wouldn't that be commercial suicide? Then again, there is a sea dragon out there, somewhere. We mustn't forget Bubbles.

Whatever's behind the revamp, something's going on. I guess I'll just keep on doing my dailies until I find out what it is. I'm betting when I do I'll be wanting that +30 swim speed infusion. Might as well get working on it now.

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