Here we go.
Guild Wars 2’s Meta is…not too bad compared to other MMOs I’ve played. But its perceived meta is among the worst I’ve seen in my 20 years playing MMOs. I don’t think one specific thing is to blame for it, but there are multiple contributors.
The weird thing about this is that the actual meta in Guild Wars 2 is pretty damn good; one of the more healthy metas around. There are so many options for each major (loose) category, and a lot of the good classes play very differently from each other. An alacrity DPS Mirage, for example, will be much different than any other Alacrity build. Healers feel effective and mostly contribute more than just healing. Pretty much every sub-class has, at the very least, one DPS build, and one support DPS build or healing build. That’s very good. If your build makes sense for the type of content you’re doing, and you play it adequately, you will clear any piece of content efficiently, provided the people you’re running with are doing the same.
Metabattle is the site I recommend most because the spread on builds is the best out of any other site out there. (Though Hardstuck is doing well on that front as well, despite still being a work in progress.)
The biggest issue with Guild Wars 2’s perceived meta is how hamfisted it is in content that doesn’t necessarily need it. The resources out there are very good, but there’s so little to actually help those learning why things work the way they work, that it incidentally perpetuates the idea that these are the only builds that work at all. There are good descriptions of what makes the builds good and what you have to do to push the build, but a lot of them are based on the benchmarks alone, which isn’t exactly the best barometer when it comes to real fights.
The builds don’t teach you how to play them in an actual real game scenario; only an “optimal” rotation and that’s it. Metabattle in particular is much better about this, as it has a lot more optional routes with a particular build (example: “If you’re having trouble maintaining X, do Y”), When you don’t explain why things work the way they work, you get players talking about Scrapper Gyro changes being better if they just dropped on your character, which is strictly worse than it being AOE targeted. The best one I saw was someone talking about Mirage being too strong because it provided too much utility, but couldn’t name the weapon said utility was on.
The large majority of people who play Guild Wars 2 typically only do open world, and those that want to do other instanced content either just want a build that works for them, or want a build that works, period. They usually get directed to sites like Metabattle, Snowcrows, or Hardstuck. These sites are overall very, very good for the community. It allows for a great index of builds that we know work, and work well. There isn’t an issue with resources like this, because having these resources builds direction. Gone are the days of year 1, where we were kind of just flailing and just figuring out what works and what doesn’t with whatever gear.
The best place I’ve found builds that pull their weight aren’t actually listed on these sites, but are on Youtube, funny enough. If you want to play an easier Catalyst build, there’s quite a number of those available if you look around. If you like Scepter, here’s a 36k DPS Scepter Weaver. If 36k isn’t enough for your Shiverpeaks Pass run, then something’s terribly wrong.
Hyperfocus on the “best” and only the “best” is a problem among people who aren’t in any position to perform the “best”. In short, if your class or build isn’t the literal best, it’s trash. It’s an awful mindset that does so much more harm than good. This doesn’t happen in many other MMOs because the way information is perpetuated is vastly more healthy. It is drilled into your head that you must play this build or you might as well not play Guild Wars 2 at all. This is a fast track to driving new players and returning players away, as well as a good way to never allow exploration into new builds. A pure DPS build that does, for example, 38k DPS, will never be the make or break for your group compared to a build that is less common but is doing 36k DPS. It just won’t. If it does, it’s on your group as a whole, not just that build. Stop trying to justify things without looking at where you, yourself, can improve first. Group content is done as a group, and it’s on all of you to perform. If you all do, then you’ll never notice the DPS difference.
I want to blame raids, I want to blame Strikes or Challenge Modes, but I don’t think those are the culprit. If anything, those modes helped with actually developing a meta in the first place (which again, isn’t the issue here). Before Heart of Thorns (and even a long time during), people kind of just did whatever, even in Fractals, and they were a huge pain most of the time. Having structure is a good thing, especially in instanced content. Having content that reinforces said structure is also a good thing, as it’ll help players learn what a functional build is and does. I think the lack of a proper holy trinity is the root of the issue.
It’s not that I think Guild Wars 2 needs it; quite the opposite. I think the loose role assignments make it harder for players to explore what works and what doesn’t, so when something does work and is popular, straying from that feels worse. This is exacerbated in Challenge Modes, where you have to perform as required. I don’t think there’s a clean solution to this, other than the prominent sites to do more to promote and give visibility to genuinely good builds, even if it isn’t the literal most optimal thing possible. Now, I don’t buy the argument that “If it isn’t optimal, why bother playing it?”, because Power Mechanist certainly isn’t the most optimal damage build.
I will say that the gearing process in Guild Wars 2 is a definite contributor. Ritualist gear in particular being difficult to get, even at Exotic, is a major reason why Specter isn’t played as much by the average player. Celestial gear being available through boosting a character was a huge boost for classes that can use it, like Firebrand and Tempest, and there are many anecdotes of players, both new and old, using their boosts on said classes just because they can save a ton of gold on effectively skipping the gearing process and jumping straight into mid-level, non-tanking instanced content.
Which brings me to Power Mechanist, the boogeyman of the meta right now. The issue many players seem to have is how good the damage is relative to the effort put into it. I don’t think the damage is the problem at all. The sheer amount of utility it brings on top of very good DPS is more the concern. Good CC, one, up to two movement skills, alacrity, stability and swiftness, a portable tank via the golem existing, incredible signets that you can activate with no issue, passive barrier and one of the best ranged weapons in Rifle. Built-in defensive options in off-hand shield. The grenade kit provides a ranged option if you do decide to go Mace. It goes on and on and on. It’s hard to take away so much of its utility as an Engineer, but toning down the damage might be the only way to go, as they’ve already leaned towards the next balance update in October.
Going on a tangent, it’s not like Power Mechanist is the only easy class either. Mirage is one of my mains, and both Alacrity Staff, and Axe/x builds, are either relatively easy to play or can be heavily simplified while still maintaining very good DPS. Power Scrapper is another build that requires little effort on your end, and can provide semi-passive utility on a quickness build. (This is different from Low Intensity builds, which are a separate brand of builds that are regularly highlighted on Metabattle, and various content creators’ Youtubes.)
All of this said, I think it’s important to do more as a community to be more willing to just try stuff. There’s definitely a good chance I just may not be seeing it, but just having even more to choose from, including Low Intensity or ease of use alternatives, would be a big help to the image of the meta. Disclaim what sites are for what builds before suggesting them (this is why I always recommend Metabattle over Snowcrows), Fleshing out existing builds even more than they are now would also work. Metabattle is more consistent at this, as it provides alternatives for real play situations (example: If you need to provide more Might, do x).
I highly recommend going through as many resources of what you want to do as possible, while also understanding what kind of content you’re intending to do. Be more willing to adjust your build according to what your group needs, and don’t be afraid to sacrifice a bit of DPS if it means securing your group’s success. Hopefully with more balance patches on the horizon by a now more established team, we’ll see more done to improved the perceived meta in the long term