Wednesday, April 15, 2020

World Vs World Vs The World

It's been a while since I said much about Guild Wars 2's large-scale factional warfare system, World vs World. There's been very little to say.

Like much of GW2, WvW seems to have been drifting for a long time. Drifting? Hell, it's been in freefall. As with PvE, it's not so much that nothing ever changes, more that the things that do have little in common with the things that should.

Of course, ArenaNet claim to have a grand plan for WvW. They first told us about it... hang on now, when was it? Oh yes, the original announcement came all the way back in February 2018, more than two years ago in a forum thread that bloated to forty-nine pages as players debated the pros and cons of scrapping all the current servers in favor of a complex and poorly-understand patchwork of "Alliances". 

There were two more official updates in 2018 and since then nothing. The most recent thread on the topic, started in January 2020 by a player who asks "Is this still coming?", has only managed to muster a desultory couple of pages of replies so far, none of them from anyone with a red name.

At the time of the original Alliance proposal WvW was already thought by many to be in a bad way. That's why it needed such a radical overhaul. Two years of benign neglect have done little to iprove the situation. Populations have dwindled, commitment has waned, interest has faded.

Over the years my own relationship with the game mode has spiralled from fervor to indifference to irritation. For much of the last twelve months about my only involvement has been a few minutes before work as I tick off my dailies. There's a selection of WvW dialies that are faster and easier to knock out than almost anything on the PvE checklist, odd though that seems.

If it wasn't for that I might not be playing any WvW at all... Or so I was starting to believe. Then something changed.

This morning, entirely unplanned, I spent ninety minutes in the Mists. I only popped up to do those dailies but I ended up defending a keep for the best part of an hour and a half. That's the kind of thing that would have happened routinely a few years ago. It's been happening a lot more often of late.

I put the difference down to three things. The first is the sweeping revision to combat skills in World vs World that happened a few weeks ago.

GW2, like all MMORPGs, suffers from eternal re-balancing. Very few of those changes ever seem to have much of an impact other than to create new flavor of the month builds or change the meta from something everyone hates to something everyone hates even more. This one was different.

ANet had one primary goal in the changes they made and that was to make fights last longer. Almost every class got nerfed, some of them hard. I noticed the difference immediately. When I got ganked it took me ten seconds to die instead of two.

Since the end result was the same, you might think it wouldn't make much of a difference, but it does. Together with the nerf to mount speed and the addition of a passive buff that makes anyone running alongside a mount move at the same pace, combat somehow feels more tactile, more organic.

There were, as there always are when a big change happens, some bonuses and bribes to entice lapsed and reluctant WvW players to try give it another try. Usually that results in a weekend of mayhem followed by a slump. This time quite a few players seem to have liked what they found and stuck with it, at least for now.

The second change is the tsunami that's raising all boats. Wilhelm commented on the uptick in attendance over in EVE Online. Reports elsewhere suggest it's a phenomenon affecting many MMORPGs. Turns out, if you make everyone stay indoors, a lot of folks end up playing video games.

All the games I'm playing seem noticeably busier but they have done for quite a while. All this year, in fact.

Last autumn I felt several of them were noticeably slack. Worryingly so in a few cases. Since the new year, though, there seem to have been people everywhere. There are always people at the East Freeport bank on EverQuest II's Skyfire server these days. The Guild Lobby on the Luclin server where I play EverQuest is back to reporting "too many names" on a /who search.

By my observations, that predates the pandemic effect but recent weeks have only seen numbers increase. On the servers where I play World vs World I'm now seeing occasional queues for the most popular map, Eternal Battlegrounds, not just around reset but on weekday evenings, which is far from being primetime on US servers.

The third thing that's changed only affects a select group - those of us who play on GW2's Yaks Bend server. For almost the entire lifetime of the game, YB has been a hotbed of WvW. Once it was notorious for a particular playstyle, one that most other servers despised, but even in recent times, when those days are scarcely a memory for most, our population has been ranked either Full or Very High.

In then end even we couldn't escape the creeping malaise that had overcome so many. Our population declined to High. In the North American division there are four tiers of three teams. That means a dozen "Host" servers get to use their own names, while another dozen, making up the original twenty-four from launch, have to cling to their coat-tails as "Guests".

At the end of March, when the music stopped and the new bi-monthly links were decided, for the first time ever Yaks Bend found itself without a chair. We're tagging along as junior partners with Henge of Denravi until the end of May.

And it's wonderful! I already knew how good a fit HoD was for my playstyle because I've been linked with them a couple of times on my Ehmry Bay account. For some reason, HoD still seem to approach WvW as if it was 2015. They scout, they siege, they respond to callouts, they pay attention to the map, they even seem to be interested in the score.

In other words, from my perspective at least, they play the game properly. Almost no other server does that any more. Maybe Blackgate but they're something else entirely. Playing on Henge of Denravi feels unnervingly like playing on Yaks Bend several years ago, albeit without the obsessive siege building and the unfortunate habit of living in other people's keeps all week.

All of these things together have made World vs World a much more enjoyable experience these past couple of weeks. How long it will last is another matter.

If the proposed Alliance revamp ever does happen, of course, it will wipe the slate and press the reset button and any number of other cliches. It could save the game mode or destroy it or just leave it floundering all over again.

Now that the third expansion has been announced, it wouldn't surprise to me to learn that Alliances were going to be one of its features. They tried that in Heart of Thorns and it nearly killed WvW for good but I doubt that would stop them trying again. Also, five or six years in the making would just about fit ANet's infamous glacial development pace.

For now, I'm going to carry on as if nothing had ever been said about Alliances. If they happen, fine. If not, as recent developments have shown, there's still a little fun to be wrung out of the old rules, one way or another.

Of course, it's Super Adventure Box this week so by the time you read this the Mists will probably be empty again...

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