Friday, September 3, 2021

Guild Wars 2 Doesn't Matter And That's Fine With Me

I had a couple of ideas for posts for today but then I read Jeromai's excellent semi-rant on the cluttered, jumbled, messed-up state Guild Wars 2 finds itself in these days. It's a lengthy read but I recommend it to anyone interested in how the game works, or mostly doesn't, these days.

There's a ton of stuff in there that I've been thinking about for a long time but frankly could not summon up the willpower to turn into a post. As a very long term and very committed GW2 player - I believe it is now the mmorpg I have played both longest and most - the irony is that, although there is an almost inconcievable amount of "content" in the game, I still feel it's one of the thinnest, lightest, most repetitve and on far too many occasions flat-out tedious mmorpgs I've ever stuck with for the long-term.

As Jeromai so terrifyingly explains, the problem is never not having anything to do. Oh, ye gods no! If you limited yourself to nothing more than the basics, it would be quite literally impossible for a human being to work through all of the one-a-day, repeatable options in a single twenty-four hour period and also find time for sleeping and eating. Actually, probably even without that. There are probably bots trying it right now but honestly I'm not sure even a bot could do it. You'd probably need a team of them.

My problem isn't lack of content, then. No-one's problem in GW2 is lack of content. My problem is lack of interesting content. Fresh content. Content that I'm excited to do. There are thousands of things I could theoretically be doing but there aren't all that many I ever wanted to do more than once, not even when they were new. 

I'm not going to re-write history and pretend I never enjoyed any of the myriad of maps, dailies, collects and story snippets that have trundled off the end of the Living World/Living Story conveyor belt over the last nine years. A skim through the hundreds of frequently quite upbeat, positive posts on the game here at Inventory Full would soon punch a hole in that kind of retcon. 

The thing is, for many years that content was designed to be consumed and forgotten. The first season of Living World played out in real time. You were there or you missed it. Even now, much as they'd like to, ArenaNet can't bring those moments back, neatly packaged and sold for two hundred gems a pop.

Waiting for the Veteran Warg to spawn in WvW for the Veteran Creature Daily. It's a 10 minute spawn and we're going to stand here 'til it comes. That's entertainment.


Subsequent seasons were designed to be resellable and the addition of awkward, fiddly Achievements was supposed to make them replayable, too. Still, that was something for a niche audience. Completists, late-comers, obsessives. The general design continued to favor periodic content drops intended to bring everyone together in a feeding frenzy that would soon be overtaken by the next one on the content assembly line.

It seemd like a good idea at first. Dry Top and particularly Silverwastes kept us occupied for months. As time went on the prospect of a new map (or at least part of one) every couple of months took hold. Became expected. A Living Story drop without a new map was seen as an admission of failure, a sign of the game falling into decline.

What to do with all those old maps, though? Keep using them, of course. GW2 has the best record bar none in the genre of keeping all older content continually in play. It's a laudable goal and a considerable achievement. We certainly complain enough about the opposite in other games so it seems more than churlish to criticize ANet for doing what we so often say all mmorpgs should do. 

I'd be the first to applaud them for bringing back good repeatable content, like the Marionette. I complained about the waste of taking that away, plenty of times. In GW2's nine year history there hasn't been a surfeit of set piece events as strong and well-liked as the Marionette. Certainly not so many the game can afford to discard them after a few weeks and never let them be seen again.

I can think of a handful more good ones that could be brought back but here comes the inevitable corollary: be careful what you wish for. Open that door and who knows what might shoulder its way past? I certainly don't want to see Joko in the game ever again, or Balthazar.

But of course those two never really went away, unlike Scarlet. With years of experience the developers have become more adept at designing maps and content for continuous use, albeit at the expense of logic and possibly sanity. We have an officially-stated position now that time works differently in Tyria. Everything exists simultaneously and all these maps are somehow timelocked in a hand-waving fashion I don't remotely begin to understand because magic, I suppose. Or more likley because just go with it.

Fine. Fair enough. It's a problem no theme-park mmorpg I know of has ever managed to solve, even World of Warcraft, where no-one really seems to mind ripping out whole chunks of the game and throwing them away with every expansion.

Unfortunately, an awful lot of content GW2 has added over the years was never intended to hang around forever. It was meant to excite people for a few days, occupy them for a few more, then be replaced by something new. That was the original Living World model and for my money it worked. Unfortunately for ANet's money - real money - it didn't. It was too expensive to keep producing content that only lasted a few weeks and anyway most players hated it. Mmorpg players are very uncomfortable with content that goes away. 

I cared about these people, once. Well, some of them.

I'm not. I'm uncomfortable with content originally designed to be permanent  getting removed but very comfortable indeed with content that arrives with an expiry date attached and especially with content that comes with an appointment to view. I really like one-off events in mmorpgs. I'd go as far as to say I think one-off events are what mmorpgs are for.

Apparently that's a minority view. It's certainly commercially unsusutainable. Everything has to be permanent and reusable for everyone, always, or someone's going to kick off. Which is a problem when you also have a sales structure that relies on doling out chunks of monetizeable content week after week.

It might be sustainable if there wasn't such an obvious formula to it all, I guess. We'll probably never know. I doubt there's the imagination or the budget in any mmorpg studio to make it happen but it's a theory. In the case of GW2, the best we've been trained to expect with every new map is a meta that can be farmed and some pretty new scenery to look at while we're doing it.

Oh, and a new currency and some new dailies to do to get it. As Jeromai so vividly describes there are always more dailies...

To me, the prospect of returning to those old maps and grinding those old events for those old currencies is about as attractive as watching re-runs of an old sitcom you never found all that funny to begin with. If you're lucky it might raise the odd, wry smile, once or twice but more likely the best you can say for it is it kills half an hour when there's literally nothing else you can think of to do.

The whole game is a bit like that although, for my own personal tastes, I'd have to say that revisiting many of the original maps and most of Heart of Thorns is more like happening on an episode of a sitcom I used to like a lot and finding out to my pleasure it's still as funny as it always was, only now the humor is layered over with a patina of familiarity and recognition.

Maybe other people get that from all those increasingly faceless maps that came with later seasons of the Living World. If so, I'm happy for them.

Like Jeromai, I was working my way through the old episodes and chapters ANet have been re-promoting as a quite clever and exceptionally cheap run-up to the next expansion, End of Dragons. I have to say that as a marketing excercise it's a good  one. It got me to do things I would have sworn I'd never do, like replay old story content and revisit old Living World maps.

I could beat this thing with my eyes closed.


Also like Jeromai, though, what I've noticed as I've been doing it is just how shoddy and ramshackle much of that older content is and, by implication, always was. It's a little disturbing how much of a pass all content in all mmorpgs gets just for being new. I'm certain I enjoyed a lot of this stuff a lot more at the time simply because I hadn't seen it before.

And that's fine with content that goes away. As I said up top, I'm good with seeing it once and never again. A lot of popular entertainment is throwaway for a reason. Much of it is smoke, mirrors and flashing lights. And that's fine.

What you get when you go back to visit it again a year or two later could be magical. It could be nostalgic, emotional, bittersweet. It could be fun. Or it could be like the circus the day after the last show. Sweaty men smoking roll-ups, heaving dull, heavy flats onto a lorry. A threadbare lion yawning toothlessly at the back of a filthy cage. Clowns with their make-up off sitting on the steps of their ricketty caravans, shoulders slumped, looking worn and tired and old. You can see how it all works, now, and you wonder how you could ever have found it so entrancing.

And that story. Oh, boy. If there's one thing in Guild Wars 2 you do not want to revisit it's the storyline. Jeromai really skewers it and rightly so:

"The story started to dry up as the NPCs talked at each other for 5 minutes or longer each instance, before progressing on to the next scripted step, that produced even more talking, until maybe there would be a quick fight (utterly destroyed by a power-creeped spin-to-win reaper shroud) and then even more talking. Oh, and a gimmick fight or two which takes FOREVER"

The thing is, when this was new, I wanted more of all that talk. The talk was the best part. It was why I played through the stories in the first place. 

It wasn't that I thought it was well-written, even at the time. As Jeromai points out characterization is wildly inconsistent, the plot is driven by the needs of the cash shop and the whole thing has the unmistakeable stamp: "Approved by the Storyline Committee". It's not just pulp fantasy soap opera - it's mediocre pulp fantasy soap opera - at best!

Did someone ask for a golem?


And yet at the time it was new I was sufficiently invested in the plot and the characters to care, at least while it was happening. And so, I believe, was Jeromai, from what I remember from his commentary back then. It's just that none of this stuff was built to last any more than the latest episodes of East Enders or General Hospital or whatever modern-day soap you want to slot in for a less-dated example. 

You're meant to watch this stuff once then never think about it again. You just need to retain a vestigial memory of the main plot points so the next episode at least seems to follow on. As anyone who's ever re-watched a sopa opera knows, the more you remember about the plot, the less sense it's going to make.

So, after all that, why do I still play GW2 every single day without fail? Why, yesterday, did I play for an hour and a half longer than I intended, even while I was wanting to play Bless Unleashed instead?

Becuase as Jeromai says there's an "inherent freedom" to the game that isn't found in many of its competitors. You really can do whatever the hell you want in GW2 and it really doesn't matter. No-one else cares. There's no one thing you "ought" to be doing. Saying "nothing matters in the game" sounds like a damning criticism but say it in a different tone and it's a ringing endorsement.

I spent most of my GW2 time yesterday defending our EBG Keep from SoS's ROSE guild and their hangers-on, fifty-plus of them with a bunch of golems coming back again and again, to be wiped by our thirty or so PUGs and a great tag. There's a bunch of acronyms and jargon you don't need to understand. All you need to know was it was in-the-moment fun that mattered a lot in the moment and for not for one second after.

Ditto my dailies. I do my dailies every day and I love it. I have no reason to do them. If I missed a day or a week or a month it wouldn't matter. It just pleases me when I get them done. And when I say "my dailies" I mean exactly that. As Jeromai says "every single GW2 player knows how to pick and choose what dailies they want to do.

In Bless Unleashed there are certain things I feel I need to do every time I log in. They matter or for now it feels as though they do. In GW2, hey, who cares? 

Nope. You got me. I don't remember this one.


It's freeing. It's the upside of playing a game where even the developers clearly have no real idea where things are going and never have. Yes, it makes a lot of the narrative and most of the activities feel objectively meaningless but that can be a good thing. 

The plot in Bless Unleashed is far more coherent and followable than anything I've experienced in GW2. That's great. I'm really enjoying it. It's pulling me through the game like an engine. I played GW2 for something like seven or eight years before I bothered to finish the original Personal Story that was there at launch.

If the GW2 story had been as clear and compelling as BU's I'd have wanted to know how it ended. It wasn't and I didn't care. I still don't care. But I'm still playing GW2 nine years later. I have over twenty characters there and that's in large part because I've never felt I had to repeat any content I didn't want to do again.

I want to play another class in Bless Unleashed but I'm already wary because I know I'll have to go through the story again. It's a good story but I've seen it. Do I want to see it again? Want to place a bet on how many years I'll be playing Bless Unleashed? Or how many characters I'll have there?

That's not a dig at either game. They are, weirdly, very similar. In fact, Playing Bless Unleashed feels closer to playing GW2 than anything else I can think of. Maybe I will still be playing both of them, years from now. 

If so, that will be because nothing much in either of them matters or at least doesn't matter too much. It's important things in video games don't matter too much. Things mattering in video games is a problem not an advantage. That's why people burn out or get angry or addicted. Mmorpg's "mattering" is not a goal for which we should be shooting.

Over time I hope things in Bless Unleashed come to matter to me less than they do now. That's as it should be. I also hope the developers there can keep adding things that seem to matter, for a while, when they're new. That's also as it should be.

What happens to all that stuff when it doesn't matter so much any more, that's the question GW2's been wrestling with all these years, along with every other mmorpg developer. The solution ArenaNet have come up with, problematic though it can appear, seems to me to be about as good as we could hope for. 

At least, if anyone's found a better way, they're keeping it to themselves.


  1. This is one of those times I miss a "Like" button because I don't have anything to say, other than I really enjoyed reading this post.

    Oddly I feel like maybe I should install Guild Wars 2!!

    1. I've mentioned this before but back in my apazine days we had something called "mailcoms", a contraction of "mailing comments", in which each member would say something about every zine in the previous mailing. You didn;t have to do them at all but if you did it was generally considered bad form not to mention everyone.

      Apas (or the ones I was in, at least) absolutely loved jargon and we had umpteen abbreviations we used to use, including half the common ones now associated with internet or text speak, like lol, rofl, roflmao, omg and plenty more. This was in the 1980s but loads of those date back to the second world war, when they were invented by radio operators and other technicians. Anyway, I digress...

      ...the point is, we had a really useful abbreviation : raebnch. It stands for "read and enjoyed but no comment hooks" and it served as a Like would nowadays. If you wanted to be snarky you could even just go with "nch" but you'd beter be able to take an insult as well as give one if you tired that.

      Feel free to use either of those here!

    2. Hmmm... "raebnch" is tickling something in my brain. I must've come across it in the past. Maybe like usenet or somewhere?

      Anyway, now it is in my toolbox!

  2. I bought GW2 earlier this year to give it a go. Story never interested me, so I skipped past it. Did run into the "gimmick fights that last FOREVER" at around 50 or 60 and was annoyed by them, so despite leveling 3 classes to 80 (all in low-level content as I was trying to complete zones and the game simply showered XP on me...), I never did the level 70 story quest, much less 80 nor unlocking expansion areas.

    Got to the point I'd log in to grab the daily reward and log back out. Did that for a couple of weeks and caught myself doing that and just went "why?" and then uninstalled the game.

    Can't say anything was wrong with the game per se, it just never really grabbed me. None of the classes ever quite seemed to "click" for me. Read a few guides on classes, and a common complaint was that "to play really well you need to be able to treat your keyboard and hotkeys like a piano" for a lot of them. Even the "less complex" classes still seemed to have odd rotations to me. Adn then there was the problem that the "simple" classes were actually boring. Catch-22, no?

    But anyway... I tried it, and as your title says -- it didn't matter. Passed some time, mostly more or less enjoyably, so I'm happy enough with that.

    1. The whole "difficult to play" (as in requires a lot of manual dexterity) thing that comes up frequently with GW2 absolutely mystifies me. Yes, I accept it may be true for PvP or raiding but for all open-world PvE content and anything in any instance I've ever ever seen, which is pretty much all of them, I'd be hard put to think of an mmorpg that required less finger-work.

      I took most of the core classes through Heart of Thorns back when everyone was complaining about how hard it was and it was a cakewalk on most of them. Some were squishier than others but the commentary I was hearing at the time about the supposed high difficulty made me wonder if some of those people had ever played an mmorpg before. Or possibly a video game. I would place GW2's hardest open world content at the bottom of the scale for genre difficulty (always excepting organizational requirements for a handful of the very big-tivket events like Triple Trouble, where all the difficulty lies in cat-herding not player skill).

      I play the class that's frequently referred to as one of the fiddliest, the Elementalist and all I do most of the time is sit in Fire attunement and hit everything as it comes off cooldown. And I am a clicker, too. Occasionally I go into water for a heal or air for a knockback, then it's back into Fire and burn burn burn. How hard is that?

      Anyway, I totally agree with your final paragraph. People seem to expect some kind of years-long satisfaction from mmorpgs that they would never look for in other genres. Three classes to max level seems like plenty of return for the cost of the game and it's going to be there whenever you feel like another run-around. Money well spent, I'd say.

    2. Heart of Thorns tends to punish melee over ranged. We had the dungeon stacking meta at the time, so it makes sense that the devs were trying to demonstrate a different variety of mobs for that vaunted “challenge.”

      So what typically happens is that new players run up to HoT mobs, the better to whack them with a sword, and stay still, because in most other MMOs, you can’t skill cast AND move at the same time... then the mobs do a knockback spin or shoot little lethal ground based arrow streaks - which they continue to stand on because not equated with dangerous as yet - then every other mob piles onto the player.

      Then in their desperate flailing running away (if they are still alive), they fall off a cliff. Possibly without a glider.

      The way out, is to get used to moving and dodging and HoT mob types and attack animations, if they want to go melee, or sit more immobile at range plinking away.

      (As a lazy person, I am quite fond of the latter option when I play low stress open world - I’ve even put rifle on warrior while getting hero points, because the raid builds were too melee oriented and presumed a level of group support that is often lacking in the open world.)

  3. Oh, I think a bot could do it. They'd just need to teleport to very precise coordinates and click F a lot. Plus a few very well timed appearances where they would hit 1 and autoattack for a bit, then autoloot or click F.

    Might still need human help for some random location spawns, but a teleporting bot would get a decent amount done in a shorter time than normally possible, before handing over fiddly stuff to a human.

    I re-read a few of my 2014 posts, just to see if your recollection was correct. *sighs* I had a lot rosier-colored glasses then. I suspect I still had trust that the story was going somewhere in the long run and that it would all tie together neatly as a logical lore package.

    Time has proven that to be... not quite the case.

    There's still some good stuff to be found on a re-visit, especially if one hasn't looked closely at the content the first time around. I'm quite enjoying this week's Living Story 4 episode, for example. It feels like everything is a fairly cohesive story package just centered on the Sandswept Isles (as long as one's world view is broad enough to support the existence of the Olmakhan, who veer distinctly on the side of "I want my characters to break stereotype, because that's more speshul").

    Living Story Season 2, on the other hand, really doesn't stand up to much scrutiny once all the facts are known. When it first released, it was like "hey, trust us, we're hinting at stuff, it will all be revealed and make sense down the line." Unfortunately, once revealed, it doesn't.

    1. One of the huge advantages of having a blog is the possibilities it affords to go back and fact-check your own memory. I often have to re-write something I was going to post about what I used to think after I've checked back and found that I didn't in fact think anything of the kind.

      It works both ways, too. I think I was actually more critical of and less thrilled by Season One at the time than I am in retrospect. A little of that is nostalgia but most of it is that I expected more of the game and thought it would get better. It actually got worse, or the Living World idea certainly did. These days I see Season One as a prime example of not knowing when you're well off. I'd have appreciated it al a lot more if I knew what was coming next.

      I've also stopped doing the catch-up for the moment. I only want to get enough credit to get the pre-cursor and now they've confirmed the Icebrood Saga stuff is going to be included in the Return I'm going to wait for that. Those were some very easy instances.


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