Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Great Spring Update or Here, Let Me Show You How To Do It!: GW2

GW2's Spring Update dropped on Tuesday and so far the reaction seems mostly positive, which might be a first. As expected, there was little in the way of new content, with the meat of the patch being system revamps and revisions.

The parts of the game under focus were World vs World and the Heart of Thorns maps, all of which received substantial makeovers or, in the case of HoT, nerfs. Seldom can such extreme pruning and cutting have been greeted with such enthusiasm.

The ever-unpopular Desert Borderlands had their barricades torn down, their bridges widened and their annoying House of Fun mechanics toned down or switched off altogether. Where once awkward jump pads or dangerous scrambles provided the fastest routes now hastily bodged-in ramps make access to key areas faster and less fatal.

That all went down well with everyone other than the awkward cusses who professed to have liked the DBLs all along, although I can sense a certain nervousness around the impending return of the Alpine Borderlands among those who can now see the potential in the new maps that was previously hidden behind the Extreme Sports aesthetic.

Almost universally welcomed was the addition of sPvP style "Reward Tracks" to WvW. I've long been of the belief that adding extrinsic rewards to game modes in order to encourage more people to try them is counter-productive. There's some real-world evidence for this.

Given that "lack of rewards" has been one of the top three complaints about WvW since launch, though, rather than fight the concept I can only comment on the execution, which is not at all bad. It's a cut-and-paste from SpVP, for sure, with just one new track specific to WvW added, but it adds some flavor and more stuff is more stuff, however you cut it.

One very clever move was giving Commanders the option to allocate a portion of the reward credit accrued by a squad to specific squaddies, who might be away from the main action on guard or scout duty, tagging siege or walking the commander's basenji.

The main problem with that is that it feeds off a new "Participation" mechanic, whereby players' activity is tallied over the fifteen minute intervals between "ticks", finalizing and handing out permanent reward credit only at the "tick", when the War Score is incremented. That just happens to be the exact same mechanic that this patch removed from the PvE Heart of Maguuma maps (the new, official, name for what has sometimes been referred to as Magus Falls). A little consistency would be nice.

Last night the second shoe dropped for WvW as server merges world linking redued the number of competitors in the North American league from twenty-four to a round dozen. Yak's Bend linked with Anvil Rock, which made about as much difference as an eye-dropper does to an ocean. My third-account server, Ehmry Bay, linked with Henge of Denravi, which might be a tad more noticeable. Gone are the days of wandering around doing dailies and taking camps without seeing a red name, I fear.

It hasn't been half a day yet so how all this will pan out is anyone's guess but by far the strongest reaction on the forums was outrage at the huge queues, hundreds strong and hours long, that most servers had at reset. I suspect that will be seen as a big win at Anet Towers. If nothing else the changes will have at least attracted the interest of a lot of dormant players who are now piling back in to see if the game they didn't like enough to keep playing has anything left to offer.

That, in a nutshell, is the overriding theme of the Spring Update: do whatever it takes to get people back through the doors. The suspicion is that Heart of Thorns under-performed at launch and then proceeded to tank hard, dragging the rest of the game down with it. Colin Johansen fell (or was pushed) onto his sword, leaving Mike "Two Hats" O'Brien to awaken from his slumber, remount his shining charger and ride in to Save The Game.

And on this evidence he just might. The WvW changes, while not by any means perfect or complete, have been better received than anything done for or to the game mode since launch. The threads on the Forum are positively glimmering with faint praise. As for the downgrades to difficulty and upgrades to rewards for PvE in Heart of Thorns, if map chat is anything to go by people there are even happier.

No longer do you need to commit a minimum of an hour, maybe as long as two, just to be sure of getting the loot you came for. Participation has been replaced by straightforward as-it-happens, by the event rewards. You can drop in, do two or three events and leave or you can stay all day; it's up to you. Either way you get something worth having.

And what you get has improved. A lot. The reward tables have been fleshed out and plumped up. The various chests have more in them and better. The event rewards have a chance for desirable drops including Ascended items. The rate at which the various map currencies accrue is many times faster.

There's a permanent 50% increase in xp for killing mobs, the hated "diminishing returns" debuff that discouraged farming and grinding is gone, there's increased frequency of access and reduced difficulty for Adventures.  Many existing events have been restructured and many new events added to facilitate solo and small group play.

I soloed one Veteran mob last night that was flagged as an event. It took about twenty seconds (berserker staff ele - ymmv) and I got better rewards than I would have expected from fifteen or twenty minutes of Old HoT.

Oh, and you now get a free upgrade to level 80 with every purchase of Heart of Thorns, complete with all the gear you need and all the waypoints opened so you can jump straight into the expansion content without any of that tedious leveling nonsense. If you already have HoT and all your character slots are filled with 80s, don't worry - you get a big pack of goodies including dyes and some gold.

ANet are on a major love offensive with this update, that's obvious. The "new" regime is clearly prepared to break with any and all of the precepts of the team that got us to where we were until last Tuesday. The new mantra is "give the punters what they want". We even got autoloot in WvW and our old fireball graphics back. It's almost as though someone was actually listening to feedback!

Take dungeons: I don't do them myself so I have no anecdotal evidence to offer but it looks as though there has been a complete climb down on the aggressive decision taken months ago to all but kill that game mode off. Now the talk is all about how that was "unnecessary" and there are new rewards and plenty of encouragement to get back underground.

There's more - a lot more. It's all in the mother of all patch notes if anyone wants the full details.  The key takeaway, though, is that this seems to be about the best-received update I can remember for the game and that's almost entirely down to a complete 180 degree change of direction.

This update acknowledges what the majority of players and commentators have been saying for half a year or more: Heart of Thorns was misconceived, aimed at the wrong demographic (and missed it, too) and was bad for the future of the game. I actually liked HoT a lot more than I expected but I'm certain I'd have liked it a lot more, even than that, had it launched in this latest version.

The "Buy Heart of Thorns" pop up is back in the corner of the screen for my non-HoT accounts. Having done the unpleasant and humiliating work to make the expansion more palatable to those players who voted without their wallets, ANet naturally want to reap the reward of more sales.

I would already have recommended HoT because, as I said, I've enjoyed it and I feel I got my money's worth long ago. This re-envisioning is even easier to recommend. It's slicker, more polished, better-targeted and more accessible. Whereas I previously had no plans to add HoT to my second or third accounts, not because of the value but because I wouldn't have wanted to repeat the required grind, now it's quite likely that one or both will receive the upgrade at some point.

GW2's Spring Update isn't a second coming on the scale of FFXIV:A Realm Reborn but it's a major change of direction that bodes very favorably indeed for the second expansion. If they really have learned their lesson, as, on this evidence, it appears they may have, then the next expansion could be a real cracker!


  1. I can confirm that playing on HOT maps with a bad build is far more enjoyable than before. As a casual player (= 2-4h / month) i start to finally enjoy playing those maps. I will maybe be able to see the last two maps !

    1. If only they'd thought of all this six months ago...

  2. I have always liked the Desert Borderlands. The problem of WvW was never the map, although the alterations made it a less frustrating map, especially the removal of barricades of the North West and North East towers.

    Arenanet has always been a diverse group and they have never had qualms on doing a 180 degree turn when needed (sometimes it might take a bit longer than others).

    I guess for those that like a predictable path it might be frustrating, but for the others it is an interesting ride.

    Remember if you don't like something about GW2 today, it might be to your tastes tomorrow (gameplay wise aside).

    1. That's a true representation of the observable outcomes but the causes are very much open to interpretation. To me the frequent changes of direction have always denoted lack of confidence, lack of commitment and lack of vision. Anet in pre-launch development talk a very good game but they seem to be one of the most fragile when it comes to dealing with adverse customer reaction in their Live games. Also, that whole "iterative" process they made so very much of pre-launch seems to be a complete disaster when it comes to running a live game. The current fad for "live beta testing" is another example of treating customers inappropriately. They need to decide what their core product and/or service is, then promote and sell it to an audience that wants it. Not, as they have been doing, act as though they are running some kind of testbed environment for a sociological experiment.

    2. Remember Arenanet experience at running Live MMOs is 3.5 years.

      Or you can see the changes of direction as a reason why Arenanet can innovate. Because if they fail (and they will) they can revert the changes. some times faster, sometimes slower.

      Also they clearly listen to customers.

      I don't mind because my MMO experience has mainly been GW1 and GW2 anyway, so I'm used to this changes.

      I know that if I don't like something chances are that in 1 week or 1 year it will be changed.

  3. Came back basically because WvW got a little attention. I can earn my favorite rewards (new armor skins) while playing my favorite mode! And I can actually find blob fights now if I want them!

    1. Good luck finding anything other than blob fights! Yesterday was a blast but every fight was like the old SMC three-ways. I was in slideshow mode half the time. It will calm down when the novelty wears off, I'm sure.

  4. Well these changes actually caused me to buy HoT and get me back into the game. The difficulty had discouraged me from even bothering before ... and I am grateful because I had forgotten how much fun the game is.


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