Guild Wars 2: Playing Together or Getting Further Apart?
GET GOOD OR GET GATHERING
Guild Wars 2 has been around for an age now. Not only is it a mature MMORPG but it’s still growing. After more than six years, I can still remember finding ArenaNet’s approach to gathering mind-blowing. Like world events and mob tagging, the gathering system in Guild Wars 2 dragged us out of the dark ages. Traditional gathering systems had too often left players fighting over resources that were decidedly finite. It discouraged people from grouping up, caused spawn strife, and pushed communities, in the physical sense, apart. Guild Wars 2 introduced a way to keep players away from this competitive collecting and playing together. In a move that seems almost obvious now, ArenaNet instanced gathering nodes, materials, and collectible resources to individual players wandering the Plains of Ashford or skipping through the Streets of Divinity's Reach.
I started out this weeks column with the intent of putting together a rough guide to this gathering system, for both new and returning players. While I might come back to this in the future, like most weeks, my mind got pulled in an entirely different direction with the release of Guild Wars Complete Collection. With so much old content in the Guild Wars back catalog, it raises some questions. With the gargantuan amount of new content, six years of evolution, and a range of game modes that maybe, just maybe, having this much to do is keeping the game together but pushing community further apart.
Now before I being, I’m not suggesting that Guild Wars 2 is dead by any stretch of the imagination. The game is thriving, so much so that ArenaNet are confident enough to jump straight into the fifth season of Living World. Rather than work on an intermediary expansion, the team is confident enough that they can sustain the game’s interest and economic model with these quarterly adventures.
Since the launch of Living World back in 2013, 2 Guild Wars 2 has seen spectacular growth. The game now has over 11 million players. That’s a huge explosion in numbers from the 1 million milestones that the very first beta hit back in 2012.
Similarly, the land mass that the game’s narrative now spawns across is huge, and the content that it contains is certainly significant. The open world alone now contains nearly 50 zones, with around half of them from Living World updates.
Every Living World episode since Gates of Maguma has involved at least some expansion to the open world. New zones like Draconis Mons craft huge cavernous interiors and recent additions like Thunderhead Keep dragged us back to old frontiers. This constant expansion has proved great for Commanders at the forefront of the fight against the Edler Dragons, and I’m not immune to the rush of excitement as everyone bursts into new lands. However, as the dust settles on each new entry what is left? The White Mantle may continue to pick away at Bloodstone indefinitely but there certainly aren’t nearly as many players ready to stop them and Tequatil rises a little too often these days. Is Guild Wars 2’s ongoing expansion starting to act against the play together ethos it inspired?
We’ve already highlighted the problems of retaining a player's interest in old maps, but this is bound to continue as the game expands into season 5. The issues that ArenaNet face are how to provide meaningful new content that reshapes our view of the world.
THE ORR PROBLEM
For anybody reading this post, Orr may have many meanings. For me, it is one of the obvious examples of why ArenaNet’s content creation has moved on into new zones. Orr is an island of the dead. Sitting amidst the Sea of Sorrows, it is a core part of the base game’s persistent world and the final stand of Zhaitan the undead. While, spoilers, our first adventure concludes with the destruction of the undead dragon, Orr still remains a rotten necropolis and a blight on the land. Trahaerna’s own wild hunt was meant to cleanse Orr of corruption but no matter how many times we eliminate this imminent threat, the restoration of the land still barely even registers. Despite a cursory glance to the restoration Orr, during Living World Season 3, it is unlikely that we will see a green and pleasant return to Orr.
It is entirely understandable why ArenaNet cannot slowly restore Orr. The undead environment is a permanent part of the open world now and tied directly into your inaugural adventure. A vibrant return to lush green meadows might be a tiny bit immersion breaking for new players off to stake a dragon. If you don't subscribe to this explanation then just take a look at Kessex Hills. The fallout from the Toxic Alliance’s Tower of Nightmares still suffocates an area that used to be field and forest. After Living World Season 1 came and went, the desolation that the Tower of Nightmares release caused are no longer pertinent for new players and are rarely going to make much sense to anybody that did not witness this event. Sure, there are ways to look back on the events that scarred this landscape but it still remains a thematic abnormality that does not make all that much sense.
So, if changing entire maps on a whim can cause these issues, why not just make Living World events transient. Some of you will remember the very first attack on Southsun Cove, the Karka, and the immense two-hour server lag. This one-shot scenario suffers from exactly the same problem that Living World Season 1 does. Most of this is gone never to return, yet for players who took a break, missed the boat, or had not started the game, these chapters in history are nothing but a black hole. All of these approaches to adding new, impactful content are not going to keep players coming back without some sort of negative effect on the future growth of the community.
With these sort of issues obviously apparent, it makes a sort of sense that we continue to see ArenaNet push the boundaries around Tyria. While players crave new continents to explore, additional lore to unlock, and new adventures to experience, the slew of new maps provides a canvas for ArenaNet to paint new narratives without vandalizing those that currently exist. The arrival of Dry Top, hints to the roots of this system, with the Silverwastes being the first mature iteration of these new zones. New zones allow players to participate in open world content without eliminating the MMO element of this RPG system. They continue to be relevant to individuals as they progress through the story, bringing up the rear, but this approach poses a risk to player spread.
Increasing world size needs an ever-expanding population, and let's face it, no MMORPG expands indefinitely. To keep these areas relevant they need to be populated. It’s been suggested that players can be encouraged to return to older areas to grind out achievements but this is where I think one of my own pet peeves works wonders to keep the community from abandoning the road less traveled.
LOOT LOOT ALL THE LOOT
I’ve, on occasion, marked my own disdain for map specific currencies. They clog up bags and make for a set of ever-increasing magical tokens that I have to track, but they also keep me coming back to maps like Ember Bay. Seasonal and ma specific currencies, as well as the associated gathering skills, are a surprisingly effective way to keep these less relevant areas full of players. Farming for chests or boss runs aside, the better the rewards for map currency the more likely I find myself going back to get some of the gear on local vendors. Coupled with the mega server tech that instances these zones, check out the blog post to find out more about how mega servers work, it is possible for these zones to continue being a vibrant and active part of the world. From Dry Top to Jahai Bluffs, there is no reason that we should find any of these zones empty.
While this approach has been more successful in some areas than others, I don’t suspect that we will see a change in approach by ArenaNet. While there are clear concerns among parts of the community that the ongoing signs of expansion are going to stretch the population across too wide an area, there are too many reasons to continue exploring the far-flung reaches of the world. Besides, we haven’t caught all the dragons yet. What do you think? Can we afford to keep on stretching outwards? Is it time to take a look back at the zones we already have, or do the rewards need to stay relevant in these locations?