Content of the article: "Guild Wars 2 has lost its identity and needs to reclaim it sooner rather than later."
Let me preface this by saying that although I’ve been a fan since near the beginning of Guild Wars 1, I’m not meaning to present anything here as objective fact, nor do I intend to step on anyone else’s personal perception on what the game should be and/or when the game’s “golden age” was. I recall plenty of criticism, some valid and some not, for just about every era of Guild Wars 2, even those that the general community seems to look back on more fondly. Also along these lines, I never played the original Guild Wars quite long enough to get into the hard mode missions or anything like that so much of what I say regarding the original may be taken with a grain of salt.
About a decade and a half ago the MMO genre started to hit the mainstream with a handful of games you’ve probably heard of; Runescape showed us that MMO’s didn’t necessarily need deep or super involved gameplay in order to be memorable and saw success through its social aspect and general atmosphere, World of Warcraft exploded onto store shelves and popularized the idea of a challenging endgame that encouraged larger groups of players to come together in order to conquer the treadmill that rewarded them with endless engagement, and off in the distance, deftly balancing on the thin line between “MMORPG” and “co-optional action RPG” was Guild Wars.
Guild Wars separated itself from WoW by focusing on instanced content for a smaller number of players; World of Warcraft’s biggest raids were accommodated for 40, while Guild Wars settled on a mere 8. This philosophy was carried over into PvP in addition to PvE for both games; World of Warcraft’s largest battleground was 40v40, and IIRC I believe Guild Wars’ peak was 12v12? Either way, roles and class balancing aside, Guild Wars 1 had a clear niche that helped separate from its competition in its smaller-scale, more tactical gameplay, and although I don’t feel I played it enough to comfortably voice my own overall opinion of it, based on how fondly many of the playerbase’s musings of the original have remained since, I feel that ArenaNet did a pretty damned good job realizing that vision, and naturally, having reached as close to perfection as they had with this design philosophy, the only natural thing to do was to flip that philosophy on its head.
I could go on here about how excited myself and likely most of you must have been at the idea of taking down the Shatterer with a whole zone’s worth of people when they first showed the fight in prerelease footage; I could recap how rocky vanilla Guild Wars 2 was due to the lack of a compelling endgame and generally fun, rewarding, repeatable content, but for the sake of brevity I’d like to skip forward to what I view as the golden age of Guild Wars 2’s lifespan, where what I believe to be the game’s greatest innovation, the core of its design philosophy that differentiated it from its peers, was done to its highest quality: Heart of Thorns.
Guild Wars 2’s biggest marketing drive was its sense of scale, how it would be the first of its kind to put the “MASSIVE” in MMO, and the four Heart of Thorns zones were where ArenaNet really found their stride when it came to this. Beforehand, I was there for the horridly designed Ancient Karka event, all throughout the tiring push of it towards the center of the map capped off by the world server crashing as it rolled down and down towards its non-watery grave, leading me to have to contact support in order to get my reward for the kill disappointingly sent through my mailbox days later, but now we had Verdant Brink, a map with multiple levels to it that culminated in multiple varied boss fights up in the canopy, Auric Basin with its four-way battle to reclaim the city of Tarir, Tangled Depths which while a pain in the ass to navigate was a beautiful zone with an awesome zone-wide event where four lanes of players took on big scary alien bugs that were all the same but different in each lane’s mechanics, and Dragon’s Stand, the peak of design in Guild Wars 2 where we pushed through one last effort of the jungle and worked together with two other squads of players to kill a goddamned Elder Dragon the size of Texas, and unlike the Ancient Karka, it all worked. Each zone had its own collection (bladed armor, machined weapons, etc.) that looked cool enough to be sought after, and the gold per hour was decent enough that they’re still being ran to this day. This was Guild Wars 2 in its prime, and with the Crystal Desert on the horizon, those of us like myself were ecstatic to see how ANet would evolve this philosophy going forward with what they’d learned from their best content yet.
Except they didn’t.
I think I speak for plenty (not all, but plenty) when I say that the meta events in the Crystal Desert were a huge letdown. Firstly, none of the zones had their own unique collections, nor did they have any carrots worth chasing at all, really, save for an armor infusion or two that had just shy of a one in a zillion drop rate. It didn’t start with the desert, either; pretty much all of the Living World Season 3 zones are deserted nowadays for similar reasons, in that aside from grinding for the legendary trinket Aurora, there’s absolutely zero staying power in those zones, which makes getting the aforementioned trinket all but impossible for newer players. I can’t begin to fathom what they were thinking, but if I may, I’d like to go even further into subjective territory; what in the hell was up with the “big boss” enemies all throughout the Crystal Desert? The final boss of Vabbi being a big snake man with his trusty hydra sidekick? Excuse me? That’s quite the downgrade from MORDREMOTH, the jungle dragon, the snakeface whose body could span the entire territory of Texas. And don’t get me started on the hounds, or the giant red and black Balthazar robot, all simply larger variants of the enemies we’d fought throughout the entire expansion. And yeah, Heart of Thorns did this too, but the bosses in question had unique mechanics based on where they were fought to compensate; several wyverns were fought all throughout the jungle, but the Patriarch in Verdant Brink had his own thing going on with those updrafts, for example, and every zone had a buildup to its respective big boss event, providing context which added even more to that juicy sense of scale.
In short, I feel ArenaNet forgot what made their game stand out in the transition from Heart of Thorns to Path of Fire, and it’s gotten even worse since then, culminating in these insulting “Dragon Response Missions” that spit in the face of everyone who enjoyed Heart of Thorns. Guild Wars 2 has never done “instanced” content particularly well, and fighting a bunch of reskinned enemies for a futile chance at a unique weapon drop is not my idea of fun. What happened to the compelling unique zone-wide battles that made each zone stand out? Why does everything feel so safe and by-the-numbers nowadays? I was super excited for Dragonfall as Kralkatorrik was my absolute favorite Elder Dragon, with the most buildup and biggest stakes for a dragon yet, and I couldn’t wait to see how ArenaNet finally gave him the Dragon’s Stand treatment, and instead of fighting him we…popped a bunch of pimples on his immobile body and killed a bunch of boring reskinned enemies while the main characters exposited about how insane and crazy it all was. After finally facing another world boss dragon in the form of the Death Branded Shatterer and fighting, and failing, to kill Kralkatorrik once and for all, WE DIDN’T EVEN GET TO FIGHT HIM FOR REAL WITH AN ENTIRE ZONE OF PEOPLE.
Here’s what ArenaNet needs to do in order to save their game:
From dungeons to raids, Guild Wars 2 has never done justice to its instanced content when compared to its peers World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. ArenaNet needs to stop with this Strike-Dragon-Response-Mission bullshit and bring the game back into the open world. Go back to the Heart of Thorns zone design philosophy and combine it with the instanced content; create “open-world raids” if you will. Take a zone and add one, or several, meta event chains that each lead to their own unique boss arenas with unique mechanics (think Verdant Brink but even more tightly designed), and have the option at the start for the commanders in the zone to either select a higher difficulty or opt in for a challenge mote, with daily rewards that give more currency or different skins or a combination. Not only will this add replayability to the zones, it would also satisfy the elite crowd while upholding the original philosophy of abolishing the “holy trinity” of MMO group compositions as the Heart of Thorns zones already have; focus on avoidable mechanics over aggro holding and DPS checks. Put an emphasis on minimizing or completely eliminating damage taken so that healers aren’t required. Create open world fights similar to the Tequatl rework pre-nerf minus the six people in the cannons that decided the success or failure of the whole encounter. Give me challenging repeatable content that makes me feel like I’m part of an entire army taking down huge continent-sized monsters again.
I’m going to play End of Dragons and enjoy it as much as I can, but if the game doesn’t steer back in the direction of Heart of Thorns, I feel like EoD will wind up being the final expansion whether we like it or not.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a wonderful day.
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