Guild Wars 2: A Year In Review
Guild Wars 2 was released on 28 August 2012. Now a little over two years old, it’s still going strong and I’d argue is still the best massively multiplayer game on the market. ArenaNet released a lot of content during 2014 but was it all good and was the year as a whole a success? We take a look over the last 12 months.
December 2013 and February 2014 brought a variety of updates to Guild Wars 2. Besides the usual bug fixes and tweaks to the client, the most obvious was the return of Wintersday. Although very little changed for Toymaker Tixx, nestled alongside this were a whole host of features and content. We took part in the culmination of the Tower of Nightmares and saw the impact that its collapse had on Kessex Hills. Having recently revisited the zone I’m still amazed at how incredible the aftermath looks. Tower of Nightmares as a concept is still one of the best things to have come out of ArenaNet, simply because it was so visually imposing. The biggest part the Winter update, specifically in December, was the addition of new healing skills for each class and significant changes to a huge number of Traits. As far as the healing skills are concerned they were certainly welcome but even to this day I still know of no players who use any of them. On paper they all sound pretty good but in practice they are far from useful in most situations. The Trait changes fortunately fared slightly better but still resulted in countless Traits that are downright terrible. There were definitely quality of life changes for all classes here but the original intention being to remove reliance on certain Trait lines really didn’t happen. As for other areas of the game that were improved in December, PvP players were given the opportunity to earn gold while playing (although it was capped to 15 gold per day) and Armorsmith, Tailor, and Leatherworker crafting was increased to 500.
Between January and February although far from the size of Decembers update, there was still plenty to celebrate. The arrival of the new Living World update, Origins of Madness, introduced Scarlet’s clockwork minions and the Twisted Marionette. Created by Scarlet, the Marionette was made in mockery of Queen Jennah's Watchknight. The Marionette is memorable for me because like most things in the Living World story at that time, it was enormous. Combined with the Breachmaker it made for a visual spectacle.
On the 1st February some of the best additions to Guild Wars 2 were made. Most of them are now taken for granted but boy did the community ask for them. Item preview on the Trading Post, Guild Missions, improved World Boss rewards, improved scaling, new stat combinations on Ascended items and a huge amount of skill changes. February also saw the addition of the Edge of the Mists map for World versus World. The whole update remains one of my favourites simply because it not only implemented a great deal but abolished Tournament Tickets.
Things really began to ramp up for Guild Wars 2 between March and May. The Battle For Lion’s Arch was a huge event in the Living World calendar: the capital city was eventually left a smouldering ruin by Scarlet. The Spring World versus World Tournament was implemented that saw Gold, Silver and Bronze leagues established for the most successful servers. Alongside this significant changes were made to the reward structure of PvP with Added small, medium, and large rank-up chests based on rank achieved. The biggest arrival during the Spring however was the April Feature Pack. Subsequent Feature Packs I haven’t been too keen on but April’s was pretty amazing. Mega Servers, PvP Reward Tracks, free Trait resets and no armor repair costs, Account Bound WvW XP, Dyes being account wide, Trait changes - the list goes on.
It was at this point that I’d stepped back a little from Guild Wars 2 to cover WildStar and although I was still playing and despite me adoring this update, I face palmed through every reveal. I’d written for almost two years about many of these issues and how they were all needed. Like most of the community they never made any sense, ArenaNet insisted they did and then backtracked completely. I’m glad that they did because the game has been immeasurably improved because of it. It’s frustrating that it took this long for ArenaNet to realise their original design decision were poor and I never understood the logic behind standing beside these choices.
When May arrived the awesome changes and brilliant additional content continued. Festival of the Four Winds arrived and even to this day, I still think it’s one of the best things to ever arrive in Tyria. Visually stunning, fun and showcasing the new Aspect movement skills it provided a totally different play experience. Combined with the Crown Pavillion and Queens Gauntlet, skill tooltip improvements and a whole host of bug and event fixes made May a standout update. Not quite on a par with April, but still exceptional.
It’s at this point between June, July and August that things began to slow down for Guild Wars 2. It’s also at this point that I began to suspect that ArenaNet were diverting their resources away from delivering free content and were instead placing their team members on other projects. I suspect part of the reason why content delivery came so thick and fast during the earlier parts of the year was because ArenaNet had pre-developed the content many months before it was due. Staff were likely still diverted onto the much-expected expansion but it wasn’t as noticeable until the Summer as their banked content began to run dry. As a result, the Summer months only presented the usual set of skill fixes and the drip feeding of Living World content. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but content updates were notably thin in comparison to what had come before. Dragon’s Reach Part 1 and 2 were excellent and although relatively short (like most Living World content) were incredibly fun. The inclusion of a new area and a whole host of new mysteries surrounding the Zephyrites in Dry Top made the story mourish. Unsurprisingly the thorn theme of Mordremoth running through the zones was, predictably, stunning. What we were lacking however during these months was simply something more to the core systems and mechanics of the game.
During the Autumn the September Feature Pack launched. It was originally announced in August but came to Fruition towards the start of September. In comparison to April’s Feature Pack it was pretty poor. I know many players were excited about what it offered because on paper it sounded excellent but I felt that similarly to the updates during the summer it was still incredibly thin. The September Feature Pack offered:
- World Tournament Series
- PvP Visual and Reward Updates
- WvW Improvements and Commander Changes
- WvW Fall Tournament
- Performance, UI and Crafting Improvements
- New Player Experience
- New Trading Post
Sadly all this only offered small improvements that were lauded as significant changes. The Commander changes in particular made me laugh because all it effectively did was add some colours to distinguish different Commanders while making the purchase account bound. Even the other Features were laughably minor:
- The WvW improvements brought only two new ability lines
- The new Trading Post is still slow and clunky to use
- Miniatures and finishers being added to the Wardrobe was something I always expected rather than needed
- The New Player Experience I think made the starting experience worse as it treat players like idiots and limited so much for very little reason
- Changes to class balance did little to alter build diversity in any way
- Leveling items are largely pointless based on how cheap crafted and low level items are from the Auction House
While all the above is more than welcome and much of it was as polished as ever, it left a massive gulf in additional content for yet another month. With the exception of Blood and Madness making a return and Tangled Paths arriving in November, it was a gap of almost five months with nothing substantial.
Living World Season 2 being continued in November saw some of ArenaNet’s best story telling. The release of The Silverwastes, Glint’s Lair, seeing Ogden again. All of it was exceptional but it was also incredibly short content. Over in as much of an hour it has left players in the same position they were in in June with the exception that they now have a new zone to farm. There were some good additions in recent weeks with significant changes to both PvP and achievements, however I have a feeling these were originally intended for the expansion pack. With so little physical additions to the game I suspect that ArenaNet’s player retention has dropped massively. So much so that they decided to splice off two things they hoped would keep the playerbase satisfied for a little while longer. The PvP changes directly appeal to players who have grown tired of players AFKing in matches and who loathe the inability to choose a map or find fair queues. The Achievement change is intentionally designed to ensure players log in for daily rewards but also easier dailies. In the short term I suspect both of these things will and have increased the amount of players returning to Guild Wars 2. With Wintersday being repeated and the Living World Episode not returning until January, it’s yet again another lengthy delay for additional content to be added.
I think ArenaNet started the year incredibly strong. They released so much content and an incredible Feature Pack before fizzling out and releasing small pockets of updates later in the year. This has left players not only in need of additional content but frustrated at the lack of communication from ArenaNet. It’s frighteningly obvious that they’ve scaled back live content updates and are instead likely working on something in the background. I think it’s really unfair on the community to do this so secretly because it provides nothing to look forward to and it makes them think that ArenaNet are in a cycle of maximising Gem Store income while giving nothing back. To see Guild Wars 2 provide so few physical game changes since the beginning of 2014 and still suffer many of the same problems it has since launch is incredibly frustrating. There’s lots of things I haven’t covered here but nothing particularly earth shattering. I can’t help but feel that if ArenaNet were a little more open and provided its players with a roadmap of what they’re working on the second half of the year might not have felt so poor.
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