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Is the Living World Harming Rather Than Helping?

Guild Wars 2 Columns - By Lewis Burnell on July 24, 2016

Is the Living World Harming Rather Than Helping?

Guild Wars 2’s Living World Season 3 is right around the corner and in this week's column, it would be rude not to discuss such an arrival. With Season 2 having begun on July 1, 2014 and culminating in the launch of Heart of Thorns, it’s with relief that Season 3 is finally on the horizon. For all the things that I loved about Season 2 and Heart of Thorns, its climax was particularly weak and yet I enjoyed most things leading up to it. While I won’t delve into the strengths and weaknesses of Season 2 (that has no doubt been done to death) I did want to discuss Living World as a whole.

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First and foremost, I love the concept of Living World. It’s arguably unique to the genre and ArenaNet have done a very good job of not only making it accessible, but also digestible irrespective of how long you have to play. That’s great and getting players involved in the story of Guild Wars is not only an excellent means of immersing them in the world, but it’s also an excellent way of providing a sense of progression. 

While there are some issues surrounding Living World such as some poor acting, overly short episodes and a sense that some episodes have more time spent on them than others, my main concern with it has always revolved around the fact that outside of Living World, the rest of Guild Wars 2 is very much left to its own devices. When a new Living World Season comes along, you can guarantee that those of us who cling to the fringes of Guild Wars 2 in anticipation of new content will arrive back in our droves. Any time outside of that however and we’re emaciated through a lack of new content.

I think it’s fair to say that Guild Wars 2 at this point in its life is particularly poor at pushing out new content. There’s no questioning that the game has lots to do - World versus World and Structured PvP are reasonable time sinks - while the myriad of achievements on offer passes some time. For those at the top-end, however, who have done all of those things for many years, little of what ArenaNet provide with Living World offers any longevity. Most episodes can be completed in a matter of hours (at the most) and even achievement hunting only adds a smattering more. There’s then (commonly) a huge gulf until the next Living World episode and only a handful of minor patches to feast on.

These lulls in content, combined with the arrival of a Living World episode that is short lived has often left me uncomfortable. It’s an approach that’s wildly at odds with how ArenaNet started out when Guild Wars 2 launched and still arguably inferior to many of its competitors. No one doubts that creating Living World content is time consuming, but is it really worth it at the expense of permanent additions to the world?

I think it’s clear at this point that ArenaNet have little intention of adding to the game world outside of expansion packs (why would they when such landmass additions is a cash cow) and Living World is intended to satiate the gulf in-between.  The abandonment of Feature Packs - effectively free mini-expansion packs - in the place of paid expansions has further added to the downtime in content additions. Even looking at the release notes and with the exception of Junes Stronghold of the Faithful, there’s been nothing but world polish. Even April’s massive adjustment to systems and settings when Mike O’Brien took the helm once again, only revamped what was already in the game. 

Part of the reason why I play Guild Wars 2 much less and only return for large updates is because at times, I feel as though I’m not the type of player ArenaNet is interested in. Appeasing those at the top end of the game - where our appetite for any content is insatiable - is no doubt exhausting, but it’s also a vicious cycle. We’re insatiable because we’re starved, and we’re starved because no time is given by ArenaNet to add content outside of an expansion pack.

For all the positive coverage Living World gains and for the brief fun that it brings, I’m not sure the narrow window of enjoyment they offer is truly worthwhile for the longevity of Guild Wars 2. For the amount of resources it likely saps from Guild Wars 2’s development team, surely that time would be much better spent developing new game content that lasted longer than a couple of hours. What about a new dungeon or revamping what we already have? A brand new Fractal? A new structured PvP map? A new reward structure for World versus World that actually incentivizes play? Even new armor that looks good that isn’t bound to the Trading Post would be welcome.

So while this column might appear negative, I do love it when a new Living World Season comes along and I suppose that’s a sign that ArenaNet are doing something right with it. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that once it has been played and completed, the inevitably of nothingness from Arenanet is soon to follow and that’s when I find myself drifting back to other games. Surely in this day and age and with so much competition between MMOs, ArenaNet should be ensuring they keep as many people as possible and Living World alone doesn’t seem to be the answer.

What are your thoughts on the Living World model? Is it a good thing for Guild Wars 2? Could ArenaNet’s time and resources be better spent elsewhere? Are you happy with the content delivery from ArenaNet? Does new content arrive too quickly or far too slowly? Let me know! 

Lewis Burnell / The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOs over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved and long time dead, Neocron.
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