Friday, April 24, 2015

Rearranging The Furniture : GW2

If there's one thing ArenaNet really is good at it's running a sustained promotional campaign. The build-up to GW2 went on for a long, long time and even though I was by no means invested in The Project back then in the way so many were, there are PR pieces and interviews I can still remember quite clearly several years later. The skills that were honed in that campaign are coming into their own as the long run-in to the release of the first expansion, Heart of Thorns, grinds remorselessly onward.

We still don't have a release date for this thing, let's remember. We haven't even got a date for the beta. The content tap has all but been turned off in the live game. There's precious little for fans to focus on other than the carefully-managed flow of information - I would hesitate to call it "news" - that aims to open a window into our collective future.

The latest additions to HoT's "Pending" folder are two posts on the official website, catchily titled Specializations, Part One and Specializations, Part Two.  Between them they go into considerable, if repetitive, detail on the Specialization system that arrives with the expansion, whenever that might be.

So old school...
The gist appears to be some kind of paring-down or simplification of the existing Trait system and the replacement of the cumbersome Skill Point As Currency concept with a more straightforward version. It's a typical MMO mid-life crisis, in other words, the kind most MMORPGs undergo sooner or later. Mechanics and processes that were touted as revolutionary or paradigm-breaking back at the launch of the game are now deemed to be in dire need of an overhaul.

I would say that it puzzles me, why just about every single MMO I've ever played has to go through this constant unpicking of the seams, this endless re-upholstering and refurbishing. I would, only it doesn't. It's exactly what's happened around me in every job I've ever held for more than a few years. People can't leave well alone and no-one ever got on in life by saying the guy before him did a great job that can't be bettered. Not even if the guy before him was him.

It's annoying, all the same, this ineluctable desire to fiddle with things that are working perfectly well already. There's every chance the new Trait system will be fine and I'm sure we'll all get used to it in a few days. There's almost no chance, however, that it will be radically better than the old system. It certainly won't be such an improvement that, a couple or three years down the line, someone won't feel the need to change the whole thing up all over again.

Shooting for a round thousand by HoT. And that's just on one character.
It's tempting to pick away at all of this, worrying over the specifics, spinning conjecture and speculation out of the many gaps and elisions, but is there any point? As the writers take great pains to emphasize, "as with all things currently in development, there may be differences between the updates ... here and the traits that make it to the live game".

In practice most of the changes and additions will, I'm sure, appear in the finished version, in some form very close to what's being described. The lid of the box wouldn't be open otherwise. Whether they are very similar or strikingly different, however, as players we won't be in any position to judge the effect on our enjoyment until we experience these changes in play.

Often it seems MMO players find it all too easy to get worked up into a state of near-hysteria about proposed changes to games they love. Sometimes they seem to be able to reach a rolling boil of outrage about changes to MMOs they've barely even heard of. In the end, most of those changes turn out to be less invasive, less destructive, less interesting than anyone imagined. Barely noticeable in fact.

One of the reasons we still talk about the NGE is because it was an exceptional case, where a change to systems and mechanics really did make a huge difference to many players' ability to enjoy the game, or even go on playing it at all. I can think of half a dozen of those, maybe, in a decade and a half.

For the while all we can do is read, watch, listen and wait. No point crying over milk that's not yet been poured, much less spilled.


  1. *shrug* I haven't logged into Tyria for a few weeks, in part because of much of the above (and some of what you brought up in your previous wvw post). Some of it would be more interesting if it weren't intended to be more interesting... or something. Milk? There is no cow yet. That reminds me...

    The only thing I'm worked up about right now is where's our duck mount, damns it?. Gotta prioritize these sentiments, y'know.

    -- 7rlsy

    1. Since I bought wings I never use a mount at all. I love just being able to fly under my own power. It's just like it is in dreams. I have never dreamed I was flying on a giant duck. I really, really hope that never happens...

  2. This rings true. I cannot help but think of the, in my opinion, disastrous class overhaul LOTRO did a few years back. The devs figured the game needed to follow the trend in skill trees and more similarity amongst de classes. (N.B. A class in LOTRO equals a profession in GW2.) The trait trees turned out alright in my opinion, but the reduction in amount of skills and more similarity dumbed the classes down. It's such a shame, because the diversity of the classes and roles they had (going beyond just tank, DPS and healer) was one of the strengths of the game. They did fiddle around with it later on to fix some of the broken things, but a lot of old group content is still hard to complete because mechanics cannot be performed correctly anymore due to longer skill CDs and more of such things. I think that together with not releasing new endgame content, that class overhaul was the reason of many players leaving the game.

    Now I don't want to suggest that anything like that will happen to GW2, of course! It is just an example of how it can go completely wrong. I wish developers in general would be more appreciative of their own class system and would recognize that their game being different from others is an actual strength. It might be the reason those loyal players actually keep playing their game.

    On GW2:
    I don't have the impression they want to change how the classes work on an elemental level or that they want to copy developments in other games. The announced removal of the cap of conditions sounds like a good plan (hopefully they won't mess it up). Anyway, I'm not deeply involved enough with GW2 (yet) to expect to notice much of the upcoming changes. Let's hope it turns out well. :)

    1. We played LotRO for a while. Long enough, in fact, that it certainly should have come to mind when I listed the MMOs I'd invested myself in for the Liebster question a week or so back. It's one of those games now, though, that has changed so much that, were I to give it another run (something I was thinking about doing only tonight) I'd probably want to start over from scratch rather than pick up where I left off.

      For GW2 something like that represents more of a risk than most MMOs because a good deal of the business model relies on "resting" customers being able to start playing again on a whim without any significant barriers. For that reason if for no other I'm not expecting anything too radical.

  3. For newer mmo's it often makes sense, there are so many elements that are rather rushed, unfinished, or a basic implementation and afterwards the devs try and rectify that. It also makes sense to refurbish certain aspects once that may benefit from modern styles and techniques.

    Too often though I think the whole dev mindset takes over where they are constantly analysing each and every aspect and looking at those flaws intently for so long. The eventual crumble and have to tinker haha.


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