Wednesday, August 21, 2019

It's All Happening: GW2

I haven't said a lot about Guild Wars 2 of late because I haven't been playing it all that much. I do still log in every day to do my dailies, although even there I've dropped from three accounts to two.

That puts a crimp in my money-earning capabilites, since just doing the dailies each day generates something like 200g per account per month, but since I have over 10k in gold and many times that in the value of the mats and other resources in my banks it's a bit of a moot point. As I've said many times, ANet simply don't produce enough stuff that I want to buy so my assets just sit there, unused.

My interest in GW2 may be at an all-time low (although a cursory flip through my back pages here suggests I've been off the game more than I've been on it for at least six of the seven years it's been running) but there's actually quite a lot going on. After the NCSoft-inspired restructuring earlier in the year there appears to have been something of a soft reset to the culture at Anet and it's filtering through into the game with increasing intensity.

For a start, Holidays are now an established part of the calendar. There's clearly a push to bridge the gaps between major seasonal events so that there's always another Holiday just around the corner. It's how every other major MMORPG has been doing it for years but ANet, in typical "we do things our way" mode, had previously resisted what they would no doubt see as following the herd.

The sights you see when you don't have your gun.
Ironically, following the herd has been the direction of travel for GW2 since at least Path of Fire. The fig-leaf of mould-breaking (I think I have a character who's wearing one) fell off the day ANet announced raiding was on the way. It hasn't been an easy transition. Heels have been both dragged and dug in. Repositioning GW2 as a game WoW and FFXIV players might vaguely recognize as a distant cousin has been slow and sometimes painful.

The most obvious change of late has beens a clear recognition that players aren't going to stick around for three months between Living Story drops that add, at best, a few days of new content. This is something that senior management at at ANet seemed to be in denial over for years.

I'm guessing metrics are finally hitting the point where the data is imposible to hand-wave away. Anecdotally, many guilds have seen major leakage as players decamp for other MMORPGs, most notably FFXIV and Elder Scrolls Online. Both of those games, each after a shaky start, have developed formidable reputations for quality and content. They get regular, meaty updates and enjoy efficient, capable management. People have noticed. Word travels.

It seems that ANet have finally noticed too. What's more someone has decided to do something about it. As well as the Holidays, which have been expanded, heavily promoted and are proving popular, we now have an ongoing schedule of open-world community events.

These are starting to fall into a pattern and it's quite a clever one. ANet will mention, usually in an interview or AMA or as some kind of aside, an upcoming event. Community leaders (aka people who can't mind their own business) will pick up on it and start gabbing in guild and general chat so a background awareness begins to build. Then ANet will make an official announcement laying out the details.

Nageling, home of the Nageling Giant, a Champion that back in beta a full zerg couldn't kill.
We've had a couple of odd events based on throwing stuff into the Mystic Forge. Those seem to be intended to correct anomalies in the economy and don't generally spark a lot of excitement. Much more successful are the combat-related ones, like the World Boss Rush, which has run twice, and the current, very similar, Champion Rush.

On first blush these were considered to be a bit of a fizzle due to the lackluster rewards. In sharp contrast to how that would have gone only a year ago, ANet immediately revamped the reward package and integrated a five-stage community target with extra goodies. The change was generally well-received and the events now seem very popular.

It would appear that the intent is to have at least one major event or Holiday active at all times. The last World Boss Rush segued into The Festival of the Four Winds, Queen's Gauntlet and Boss Blitz Holidays, which ran until yesterday's patch removed and replaced them with a very similar version involving Champions.

We already know that we're getting another global event on September 3rd and it's a curious one. Called the Expansion Boost Special Event (someone needs to work on that) it will allow anyone to "gain double mastery EXP in Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™, Living World Season 3, Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire™, and Living World Season 4 maps." It lasts for two weeks and a conspiracy theorist might be tempted to read something into it about the possible existence of a third expansion.

Inbetween then and now there's yet another date to mark on your calendar and this time it's not an event but a significant content drop. It's been a long time since anything new or interesting happened to crafting in GW2 but on the 27th of August (something about that date seems familiar...) Cooking is getting an upgrade.

When the tiers of armor and weaponry were increased to include Ascended, many years ago, all the crafts bar two were bumped to a cap of 500 (from 400) to allow crafters to make the new quality. The two that missed out were Jewellery, where for some reason I never understood Ascended was handed off to NPCs, and Cooking, which didn't get an Ascended upgrade of any kind.

Both crafts are finally going to get the Ascended treatment. Jewellery has yet to get a date but as of next Tuesday, cooks all over Tyria will be able to burn a fortune in mats to hit 500 and make Ascended food. There also seems to be some kind of quasi-quest or collection element involved and the potential results look impressive:

"Ascended food provides a primary stat, a secondary stat, and a passive or triggered effect. But that’s not all—you’ll also gain bonuses to experience points, karma, magic find, gold find, and World vs. World experience points. The benefits last for an hour, and every ascended meal is a feast so all your friends can grab a helping!"

Cooking was the first craft skill I took up in GW2 and the first I levelled to 400. I am going to be all over this! Oh, except I'll be playing WoW Classic. I'll get to it eventually.

The Knife Tail Gang up to no good.

You'd think that lot would be enough to keep players occupied but there's more. Yesterday's patch introduced The Knife Tail Gang, a bunch of Skritt bank robbers who have "broken into the Black Lion Vault and stolen many special items". At first sight this seems to be something like the old Side Stories but on further investigation it turns out to be a Trojan Horse for another round of overpriced cash shop purchases.

Everyone other than pure F2P players is entitled to one free Knife Tail Hunting Bond per account from the Gem Store. When you kill a Knife Tail Gang member with that bond active you get a "recovered" item from the loot the gang stole and that will unlock something in your Wardrobe that's normally only available from the Black Lion Store.

If you want more than the one freebie, though, it's going to cost you 200 Gems per Bond, 900 for five or 2400 for fifteen. I'll pass, thanks.

Still, it's another thing to do and since there are mount skins in the potential unlocks I'm sure plenty will. This willingness to have multiple, limited time activities both queued up and running (although I'm not sure the Knife Tail thing is of limited duration - it might be permanent) feels new. It also feels lively and interesting, which is something I haven't been able to say about GW2 for quite a while.

And there's another thing. The Big Announcement. ANet have been trailing this for a few weeks and there's been much speculation about what it might contain. On August 30th there's going to be a an Anniversary Livestream from PAX West and when that's done there's going to be a special Live event.

People have been speculating wildly on what it might be but the official announcement does actually say "Are you ready to catch the very first look at an all-new chapter in Guild Wars 2‘s Living World story?" which kind of gives the game away. Even so, it does seem like a lot of fuss for something that's normally done with a short trailer on YouTube and a post on the website. Maybe there's more to it than just that.

We will see. At least things are happening and not before time. If Anet can maintain this level of bustle and business the game can only benefit. It's amazing that it's taken seven years for the developers to work out that players get bored and wander off if you don't keep them entertained but better late than never.

Now, where's that third expansion? And it better not be anything like Path of Fire!

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