Saturday, July 3, 2021

That's When My Patience Went Away : GW2

Following my return to work I had the shell of a plan prepared for what I wanted to write about today. I was thinking along the lines of a meditation on the different entertainment needs brought on by enforced leisure and enforced labor, how one requires stimulation and the other just the opposite.

It was all percolating quite nicely. And then I saw this

The headline Massively:OP went with was

"Guild Wars 2 delays End of Dragons to 2022, brings Colin Johanson and Josh Davis back."

That's enough to put the fear into anyone. Reading through the official press release, it gets worse. Much worse:

"Alliances When?

This year."

That about puts the cap on it for me. Along with the rest of the handful of people still playing World vs World, I'd allowed myself to get comfortable. I thought this insane idea had died of neglect long ago and we could all just carry on as if the whole ludicrous farrago had never been suggested. Sadly, it seems I was mistaken.

If that wasn't sufficiently disheartening, there's this:

"In the past, development priorities shifted away from WvW, and unfortunately both World Restructuring and our players suffered as a result. Our new leadership team views WvW as a cornerstone mode of Guild Wars 2, and it will be a focus of ours going forward."

It's that sickening moment, when the door opens to your nice, quiet office on the ninth floor, where no-one ever goes and most people don't even know anyone works, and in come three suits from corporate with a checklist and an appraising look. Sometimes benign neglect is the best you can hope for.

In this case, it's not just simple fear of the unknown. There's the plain fact that every single iteration on WvW since 2012 that pretended towards anything more than a basic bug fix has been at best a downgrade and frequently a disaster. Every. Single. One.

Desert borderlands even killed EBG.


Naturally, the plan comes with promises and safeguards. Most of the section in the press release relating to Alliances is made up of apologies for previous errors and promises not to repeat them. All of which we heard last time and the time before that and the time before that again.

There's a touching naivete in the promise of a collaborative process based around a beta:

"World Restructuring features will be released in a multiphase beta. What this means is that we’ll release a part of the World Restructuring system, test it with you in the live game, gather your feedback, and then iterate on it for a future release. ... Once we’ve worked with you to lock down the design and implementation, we’ll polish it up and take it out of beta."

It sounds reassuring until you realize the despised revision that removed all of the alpine battlegrounds and replaced them with their desert counterparts was the result of a similar collaborative beta, albeit a closed one.  That was the update that drove maybe half of all WvW players to stop playing, most of them for good. Several badly-received revamps led to open rebellion that was only quelled by a public poll on what should be done, a poll that resulted in a humiliating defeat for ANet and the removal of all of the new content to which they'd tied their banner. So that went well.

I'm less disturbed about this than I might be. Two or three years ago Alliances seemed like a terrifyingly bad idea but that was when the game mode still retained a vestige of the camaraderie it once had. There's none of that any more. All that remains is some knockabout fun, something very similar to an oversized, hot-join, never-ending game of capture the flag in which no-one really cares where the flag is or who's got it. It's hard to see how Alliances can make it actively worse but I have faith that if there's a way, ArenaNet will find it.

We had fun, once.


Going back to MassivelyOP's headline, there are more bad things. First and worst is the postponement of the third expansion, End of Dragons. This is embarrassing. Guild Wars 2 has had two expansions to date, Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire. The first took three years to arrive, the second pegged that back to two. So far, so good. Not great, really very not great, but at least heading in the right direction.

When (I guess I should say "if") it launches, EoD will have been four and a half years in the making. The original game only took six months longer than that to build from scratch. At this point I'm certain the better plan would have been to start on GW3 right after the second expansion. If you're going to take the time you might as well make the damn game.

The given reason is, of course, quality. It's always quality. 

"...we need a little more time to deliver our creative vision for Cantha...We appreciate your patience as we take the time to give the expansion the attention it deserves"

Seriously, screw your "creative vision". And screw the self-congratulatory tone. Just get a damn expansion out in something close to the timescale every other major manages. 

The problem doesn't just lie with the development team, unfortunately. There's a glib, knowing wink in that "we appreciate your patience".  You can start a conversation about expansions in game any time you like and half the people talking will be saying they don't want one at all or they don't want one yet. It's not patience, it's apathy and antagonism. A lot of GW2 players will be cheering today because they won't have to suffer another expansion until next year.

I am not one of those players. The game is stale. It's been stale for much of its ten year run. The only time it freshens up is when we get a new expansion and so far that's been twice. And I only liked one of those.

Straight up, if there was a good alternative to GW2 I would be done with it now. I was done with it after Path of Fire. I keep logging in because it's there and it's familiar and it's easy and because it's the game Mrs Bhagpuss plays but mostly I'm still playing GW2 because not one of the alternatives I'm waiting on has made it to market yet. 

Mrs Bhagpuss, who only plays GW2 and, unlike me, rarely goes back to older mmorpgs she once enjoyed after she moves on to new ones, has been asking more and more often when the next good game is likely to appear. I can only hope it's soon but sadly I know it won't be before the delayed End of Dragons expansion so I guess we will indeed end up being "patient". But only because we have literally no choice.

So much for the expansion. How about those two guys coming back, eh? 

Heart of Thorns introduces a hitherto unknown problem to the game: too much loot.


This one's a bit more nuanced. From a company's point of view, can it ever be a good thing to have to announce you re-hired people you said goodbye to years ago? I guess it depends on why they left in the first place but at best it is, by definition, a backward-looking move. 

Colin Johanson was a very controversial figure in much of his time at GW2. He was the figurehead of a direction of which a vocal majority of players strongly disapproved. Whether it was true or not, he was labelled as the guy who wanted to make GW2 harder for casuals. 

He was the showrunner for Heart of Thorns, the expansion many players found daunting and difficult. The sales of the expansion were reportedly underwhelming and the aftermath confused and chaotic. Johansen posted an emotional and upbeat farewell when he left but my summary of his tenure, written at the time, was less than complimentary:

"Under his direction the game has felt increasingly rudderless, surging from each new idea to the next with barely any time to reflect on the failures or consolidate the successes.

He failed to hold the line on free, bi-weekly content updates or on not producing paid expansions. Worse, when forced to change direction on these and other key, structural positions, he failed to make a success of the imposed alternatives. It seems the relative failure of Heart of Thorns was the final straw."

Given the history, it's hard to see why his return should be greeted like the prodigal son. Or indeed, like Scott Hartsman riding in on his white charger to save EverQuest II, a comparison I am absolutely certain Colin wouldn't want anyone to make.(I imagine he'd prefer us to cast him as Yoshi P riding to the rescue of his own personal FFXIV, but then what dev wouldn't?).

I never had carried much affection for Colin Johanson's style or approach. Nevertheless, I do have to admit that the direction the game took under his tenure, up to and including the release of the first expansion, made it by some margin my favorite era. 

I liked Heart of Thorns. I liked it a lot. It would quite possibly make the list of my top ten favorite expansions for any game. I've played through it start to finish twice and partially several more. I still go there most weeks and goof around just because I enjoy being there.

The adventure begins!
Conversely I dislike, maybe even detest, the second expansion, Path of Fire, which attempted to be all the things HoT was not: accessible, steeped in Guild Wars lore, commercial. I found PoF smug, irritating and, by far the worst of all video game crimes, stultifyingly dull. I forced myself to complete the main storyline on one character. Never, never again.

That does give me some hope for Colin Johanson's return. He did once do stuff I really liked and, let's be brutally honest, he can hardly make things worse. Except, of course, he can. It's amazing how often that happens. Still, we can hope. 

That just leaves the return of Josh Davis, about whom I have to say "Who?". I vaguely remember his name. I have no idea who he is or what he did. The only GW2 writer I remember is that one who got canned for fighting with players on social media and I don't even remember what their name was.

The writing in GW2 has been all over the place for years. It has some standout moments and a vast amount of ho-hum filler. Storylines blow up then blow away like dust on the wind. Who was Mr E.? Anyone know? Anyone care? How's Zojja doing? Is she dead or alive? Is Taimi still ill or did her incurable condition cure itself? Marjorie and Kasmeer, are they still a thing? 

Gliding. 100% more fun than mounts. Official!


It's soap opera and melodrama. Most people probably just click through it to get to the fights anyway. I'm sure Josh Davis coming back means something to someone but not to me.

And there we must leave them, Colin and Josh, setting out their desks, going down the hall to have their photographs taken for their security passes. We'll have to judge them by their works, I guess, although precedent suggests we'll be lucky if we have the least clue who's actually responsible for what.

I'll spend my summer dreading the onset of the Alliance beta although at least it's going to give me something to rant write about . I'd far rather have had an unpolished expansion in August than a supposedly tarted up version of the same six months later but no-one's asking my opinion because the people who actually matter have already decided what my reaction's going to be: I'm going to be patient. I've been thanked for it so it must have happened.

Ashes of Creation and Pantheon need to get a bloody shift on. There's an open door here waiting to be pushed. At this stage I'd even take Camelot Unchained as a stepping-stone to something I actually want. I know Mrs. Bhagpuss will try it. I wonder if she'd give New World a look... she does have that new mouse now...


  1. "EoD will have been four and a half years in the making"

    It's not and I'm not sure what made you think so. There are no reasons to believe EoD development started before initial lukewarm (to put it mildly) reception to Icebrood Saga announcement and subsequent release. It was announced in April 2020 and it's likely when it just left pre-production. Same way Heart of Thorns development has probably started in the final stages of Season 1.

    Also Alliances are an attempt to give WvW proper population. It's course correction rather than experiment.

    1. When ANet actually began work on EoD has no standing with me. I count from the day of release of the previous expansion. If they chose to waste three years doing nothing, those years still count.

      As for Alliances, I understand exactly what they are - or rather what they were purported to be, should they ever happen. There have been many, many discussions over whether what's proposed is practical, possible or desirable. Personally, I feel it's none of those but I guess now we'll find out - unless this is yet another in the long sequence of broken promises and missed dates. Whatever the truth of it all, there's now so little left of the original concept you could build whatever you wanted on the ruins. Whether it will stand up is another matter entirely.

  2. Oh my, Mr B! For a moment I wasn't sure whether I was reading the right blog... such an angry tone is quite unusual from you, who tends to generally find artistry and things to praise about in every game you play, even those you drop and forget about after two weeks.

    It seems strange that you feel so compelled to play GW2 even though you find it stale. Is it just because of Mrs B? It seems like an odd juxtaposition that there are apparently a hundred games you'd like to play and for which you don't have enough time, but you play GW2 every day even though it annoys you now? Or is it still genuinely much more fun to you than any of those other games despite the annoyances expressed in this post?

    1. Heh! I like to get my rant on once in a while, just for practice. You never know when you might need the skills and I'd hate to come up rusty when it mattered. I love reading other people's rants so it seems a bit unfair not to return the favor now and then.

      I'm pretty sure most of mine have been about GW2, too. It's the most frustrating of games. I always enjoy playing it but development there moves at such a crazily slow pace, all the time. It's completely expected so I don't know why I ever act as if it would be any different. Remember the endless build-up to launch? That seemed to take years.

      The really frustrating thing, though, is the perpetual lack of direction. Most mmorpgs have swings and lurches as they go along but GW2 just never seems able to settle on anything, particularly release cadences. They've never even been able to put up a consistent line on whether or not they want to do expansions at all, let alone get them out on any kind of schedule.

      It's my feeling that for a successful mmorpg, someone should at the very least be working on the design brief for the expansion after next while the main team is working on the current one. Expansions should be seamless and coherent, not a scattershot of sporadic, unconnected events. (From the outside, Blizzard seem to suffer from some of the same issues but they do at least manage to get something done every couple of years). If you keep changing your mind about whether you're even going to do expansions at all, that's not going to happen.

      As for why I play, it's mostly because I really like the game and always have. It's the most physically satisfying mmorpg I've played since EverQuest in that the UI and controls feel more like thinking than doing. That alone counts for a huge amount. Habit and lack of good alternatives also play a big part. While I play a lot of mmorpgs in small, short sessions, all of them are really what I would call background games by now, with the possible exception of EQII. I just haven't been able to find a new foreground mmorpg for a decade. GW2 is literally the most recent major mmorpg I've played full time and I'm still waiting for a replacement.

      It's easy and comfortable and I can play it without really thinking, which means I tend to default to it if I don't have anything better to do. The fact that Mrs Bhagpuss plays is a factor but we very rarely do anything together in game and often we're not even online at the same time so it doesn't really explain why I keep logging in every day. It's not like either of us play "properly", anyway. We pretty much both only do dailies and some WvW although I have been working through the "Return to Living Story" event (I'm not sure Mrs Bhagpuss even knows it exists). I only started doing that to get the pre-cursor for the expansion, though. If I'd known the thing wouldn't be here until 2022 I wouldn't have bothered.

      I'll most likely still be playing GW2 in some fashion until either it goes or I do. I tend not to stop playing mmorpgs I like. I do play them less and less over time, though, but only if new ones come along to replace them. I'm still waiting for the one that will replace GW2 permanently.

    2. Heh, I sympathise with the expansion chaos because SWTOR has been the same or worse over the years.

      They started with having a couple of content expansions, mixed with feature expansions - but only Bioware really called those expansions, because does adding housing and nothing else really qualify as an expansion?

      Then they pivoted towards serialised single player content that was supposed to keep people entertained like a TV show! Except nobody watches TV that way nowadays, so that crashed and burned quickly, at which point we changed to irregular content updates but not expansions because we don't like those (?).

      It was only two years ago now that they committed to returning to making expansions, with the idea of getting one out every one and a half to two years. They've just announced the second of those and I'm hyped because I do like this system, but at this point I don't feel I can count on anything lasting. :)

      Look on the bright side of that sort of approach though... every new content announcement is a genuine surprise!

  3. Came here for a meaty rant after reading the news on MOP and wasn't disappointed. ;-)


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