Saturday, January 24, 2015

Expansion Confirmed! : GW2

And there we have it. I was playing GW2 throughout and FA decided to hit HIlls with an Omega right as the first video began to roll so I may have missed some of the finer points. I made some notes about half an hour after Colin Johanson had left the stage. Couldn't do it any sooner because I had to help take Stonemist Castle so, again, I may have forgotten a bullet point or two. Never mind. I'm sure we'll be hearing it all again. And again. And again.

The whole thing started, a few minutes late with a seemingly interminable warm-up during which Jennifer Hale, who voices Queen Jennah, did a sterling job getting the audience all hyped up. She was quite hyper herself and I had to turn the sound off pretty quickly.

Eventually Jennifer introduced ArenaNet co-founder Mike O’Brien who announced that, yes, Heart of Thorns is indeed an expansion. He immediately queued up a video:

That got a great response. Then Mike got out his giant wet blanket.

He listed all the things we weren't going to get, like a level cap increase, new gear, any kind of meaningful progression or a release date. He placed enormous emphasis on how "challenging" the new maps would be and how group-focused the expansion is. Every time he invited the audience in the room to endorse a point he got a feeble and lackluster response. Shots of the room showed a lot of people sitting on their hands looking glum.

It seemed evident to me that, at least at PaxSouth, few shared his disdain for the established MMO systems GW2 supposedly eschews. They seemed to be wistfully imagining what it would be like if GW2 had them too. It felt as if a lot of the room would have liked to yell "Yes please!" every time Mike asked them whether they wanted something he'd just told them they weren't going to get.

Mike didn't hang around. He introduced Colin Johanson, who came on and made a pretty good fist of repairing the damage. He had some videos to show us too but more importantly he had lots of explanatory detail that focused on what we are going to get not what we aren't. Weirdly, the first thing I remember hearing him mention was hang gliders.

Here's the list of things I remember
  • Hang gliders
  • Large, three-level jungle maps (roots, ground, canopy)
  • Mastery System
  • Language System for the new NPC races in Maguuma.
  • Precursors for Legendaries - available through the collection system.
  • New Legendaries.
  • New Class - Revenant. Rytlock is one. Channels abilities from famous GW1 NPCs.
  • Sub-professions, for example Druid for Ranger
  • Access to previously unusable weapons for existing classes via sub-classes e.g. Greatsword for Necro, Staff for Ranger.
  • New WvW Map with structures that give buffs across all WvW maps.
  • Greater incentives to hold and defend structures.
  • Guild vs Guild  mode for sPvP
  • New sPvP map
  • Guild Halls

Of all those things the one that got by far the loudest, longest and most enthusiastic response was Guild Halls.

On balance it's more than I expected if less than I hoped for. No new race, too much focus on "end game" difficulty, no real housing but an interesting new progression that sounds like EQ2's AAs, a new class and some really gorgeous new maps to explore.

The language system sounds particularly intriguing and the changes to WvW are not only a lot more than I was expecting but sound as though they could move that part of the game in exactly the direction I'd like to see it go.

We'll be chewing this over for months so for now I'll leave it at that but my overall takeaway is relief: it certainly could have been a lot worse.


  1. I applaud them for sticking to their guns on most things. I do think the wave of 'new MMOs should be completely the opposite of old ones' zeitgeist they tapped into at launch has largely passed. I don't mind things like tab targeting or holy trinities, etc., I just want a good game with the right blend of familiar and new. Also, a good game that isn't spread paper thin across every conceivable type of MMO player!

    1. Yes, I agree they should stick with the program. On the other hand they've changed horses so may times already I thought it was a bit rich to claim they were still riding the same nag they rode in on.

  2. I thought it wasn't too bad. No new race was disappointing but are you sure about no new gear? In a game that is not about gear progression I would have thought that more cosmetics would be a done deal. There really isn't much to be done on WvW. The underlying foundation is not that robust so I wasn't expecting much on that front.

    As for the rest: + on classes and professions, new maps etc. All par for the course. I will withhold judgement on this mastery system. So far they have not been stellar on tweaking character progression. What about dungeons?

    1. Oh I'm sure there will be an avalanche of new gear appearances. Just no further tier above Ascended. Probably just as well given the ultra-grind approach they seem to prefer whennit comes to gear "progression".

      Dungeons were conspicuous by their absence. I was distracted by people trying to kill me at some points so I might have missed something but I didn't catch a single mention of either dungeons or fractals. Of course I imagine there will be plenty in there that didn't get a specific mention in this opening salvo but I imagine if Dungeon play was going to be a significant feature they would have given it a bullet point of its own.

  3. I've become super jaded the day they announced Ascended items, I think in the Karka patch? I've been filled with dread and was cynical of Anet ever since that day (most of GW2's life!), that GW2 may go against GW1's spirit and add more vertical progression. Today was a HUGE sigh of relief. Seriously though, fudge those people who were disappointed that GW2's expansion won't have new gear tiers or new levels.

    I know that there's lots of people complaining about GW2's content, or lack thereof. No housing, no "endgame", WvW is boring, dungeons are poorly designed, yadda yadda.......But as long as they stick to the no new vertical progression model, it'll forever remain a game which I have no qualms of popping in once in a while and just finding my own bubble of happiness, where it may be. (jumping puzzles with my newbie friends, currently!)


    1. There's probably just about room for one big MMO that does things the way they are doing them. After two years of playing constantly, though, I am about as sure as I can be that this "horizontal progression" thing is a lot less satisfying than the vertical version. Basing an entire progression model around what the characters look like is like trying to survive on an endless diet of cake: there's just not enough solid nourishment.

      One of the key reasons I keep making new characters is to see some clear and meaningful improvement in power on my characters. The new professions and masteries will go some way towards satisfying that craving but I'm disappointed with the focus on Accounts rather than Characters. I fear we will have one pool of Mastery points per account to spend on all the characters as we do with WvW Ranks. Poor show that is. I suppose it might turn out in our favor in the end though seeing how we just bought a third account each!

      Also, given the way most new items are sourced I, find the repeated claims that ANet are opposed to The Grind ironic in the extreme!

    2. ESO is doing a Mastery point system (coming soon) and it will be account based. I can see Anet keeping it account based as well.

    3. The GW2 Mastery system is account-based. With the significant exception of Map Completion pretty much all significant gameplay in GW2 is account-based now. It's something I have mixed feelings about. With two (now three) accounts it is certainly practical but I do feel it removes a considerable amount of gameplay for me. I really liked having to choose which of my characters would do each different part of the game and now it makes no difference, which is definitely a loss from a character-player's or a role-player's perspective.

  4. So, this is going to be another box for people to buy right? Do you think it will split up the player base or will the vets come back to their usual trains afterwards - and is that bad or good for newbies / vets? Since you are quite dedicated to GW2 I thought you'd be the right person to ask. ^_^

    1. They were keen to emphasize that the whole world would remain used and useful. My guess is that they will use the Collection mechanic they announced for Legendary Precursors to drive a lot of players to all kinds of places they otherwise wouldn't bother ever going to again. And if they don't nerf the World Bosses I can't see that train coming off the tracks - it's just too easy and too lucrative. Depends what the goldmaking opportunities are like in the new maps too I guess though.

      Other than that, though, it does sound as though an awful lot of post-leveling play will be concentrated in the Maguuma Jungle and they have put Guild Halls in there too. Will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  5. They managed to intrigue me. I'm not super big on jungle zones, and my dislike for GW2's story-telling combined with missing two seasons of Living Story creates a huge barrier to my caring about the lore of the expansion, but the reveals so far have reawoken my original fondness for GW2 enough that I'm feeling strongly tempted to pick up the expansion when it releases, even if I won't necessarily play it for more than a few weeks.

    My favourite piece of news so far is the expanded options for existing classes. That could prove very interesting. I'm holding out hope for greatswords or longbows for thieves, myself.

    The new class could be interesting, too, though I'll wait to see more before I decide exactly how I feel about it. What I've heard so far is very vague.

    I am certainly glad all my gear won't be obsolete. Good to see they haven't fully abandoned their stated principles.

    As an aside, I didn't watch the reveal myself, but most of the other sources I've read on it described the crowd as giddy with excitement, so it's interesting to me that you seemed to view things differently.

    1. The crowd reaction was very interesting. They were very hyped in the warm up, to the point where I had to turn the sound off. Once Mike O'Brien started talking, however, they quietened down a lot.

      He goes through a list of things HoT won't have and keeps asking the audience if they want those things. It's a question that demands the answer "No" and that's the answer he gets but every time it's a weak and hesitant response. Shots of the crowd show a lot of people not clapping or cheering but sitting looking somewhat glum.

      Colin Johanson gets a much better response but even then the cheers aren't frenzied or joyous. It's very easy to judge the muted enthusiasm because there is one moment when the crowd does genuinely go wild: when Guild Halls are announced. It's the only time the reaction continues long enough to make the speaker wait before going on and Colin actually comments on it. Use that as a benchmark of a really enthusiastic response and it's plain to see how lukewarm some of the earlier responses have been.

      Had half the audience not been given those ridiculous "boomsticks" that they clacked together instead of applauding I think the weakness of the response would have been unmistakeable. Those things make a LOT of noise and naturally people took any opportunity to use them.

      On the other hand, maybe game convention attendees are always that restrained in their reactions. The commentators seeing a really excited crowd may very well be assessing the mood in the hall much more accurately than I am. I've never been to a game convention so I don't know what passes for excitement there :P

    2. The reaction was definitely muted, imo. Especially when Mike O'Brien came out to start talking - and I suspect it was for two reasons.

      One, he was just prolonging suspense and talking a lot of theory when everyone was really clamoring for DETAILS and JUST GET TO IT ALREADY.

      And two, I wonder if the crowd at PAX South was really representative of the GW2 playerbase, or it just happened to be whoever had plans to already be there at PAX - which would indicate a broader MMO audience.

      And when you start talking about how GW2 is sitting around thumbing its nose at what every other MMO has been doing, much of the crowd is sitting there thinking about the Warlords of Draenor expansion box they just bought and going "Huh? I don't get it? What is he trying to say? Is he making fun of us?"

      Probably "Guild Halls" was the only recognizable feature to a general audience, and so they cheered.

      Even for devoted fans, there weren't much crunchy details to go on, no date announced or anything. Just some references to systems/features that at least one can be reassured they've worked on to the point that they dare to talk about it, which is good, given Anet's usual reticence...

      ...and what can be slowly be teased out in the trailer - which is much easier done at home with a rewind and pause button, whereas the crowd has to take it all in and probably missed a bunch of stuff.

    3. Yes, I was wondering that. I've never been to a gaming convention but I've been to a whole lot of Comics cons and audiences vary a lot depending on things like whether you have to get tickets or sign up for events, what size the room is, what else is running at the same time, what time of day it is etc etc. Is 10.00am on a Saturday a prime slot at PAX or a dead spot before things have really gotten started? I know when I was going to Comic conventions we'd still be trying to quell hangovers from the night before at 10 in the morning and not in any frame of mind to receive any presentation exuberantly.

  6. I've only been to PAX Prime, which is quite a bit bigger. Looking at the schedule, it's in the largest panel room by far, and I don't see any other major panels going on alongside it other than the Firaxis one. (And that's mostly about Beyond Earth, which I gather got pretty lukewarm reception from hardcore Civ fans.) That was one of the reasons I was expecting expansion: you don't put something in the main theater unless it's a Big Deal.

    Saturday is usually the first day to sell out, and since nothing's really open before 10 you don't have much to do beforehand besides wait in line. I don't do Friday, so if it were in Seattle it would've been the first event I did. If I weren't interested in the game, I'd do something else.

    1. (and that was meant as a reply to the thread above, sorry)

  7. Eh, it seems okay. I'm not super hyped about it, but I'll probably pick it up eventually. Might not be a day one buy, though. I'm still much more interested in too many other games at this moment.

    1. I linked your burnout post form a year or so back in the post I wrote today. I thought you summed things up very accurately. The whole post-launch direction has been irritating and hearing them continue to reference the original principles as if they were still in effect is galling.

  8. For me it's long over due. I thought I'd like a more horizontal game design but in practice it was boring and static for much too long. No one that I played with or knows in real life who played is still playing. We've been long gone. I'm not sure there was anything I heard that would tempt me to buy the box either knowing that I'll do the few new levels then it's back to temp content for a long time.

    1. I agree. The whole "horizontal" thing looks a lot better on paper than it plays out over months and years. I am pretty clear what it is I'm after, finally: continual, easy vertical progression. Not sure where I'm going to find it though...


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