I don’t like doing purely negative posts, as a rule. I tend to be a believer in the principle that if you can’t say anything nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. Even my endless rants about World of Warcraft are born from a deep love for the game and the desire to not see it squander its potential.
Yet I think the topic of why I am not currently playing Guild Wars 2’s first expansion, Heart of Thorns, and why I may never play it is an interesting story to tell. It is a tale of how a studio can burn through its entire supply of good will and turn away a former fan.
I want to be clear that I’m not seeking to bash GW2, and I still think it’s a solid game in a lot of ways. I merely wish to chart the course that took me from enthusiastic fanboy to indifferent ex-player. There is no venom behind this post; only morbid interest.
I want to start by detailing my history with GW2. Longtime readers of this blog will already know all of this and can safely skip to the next section of the post, but for anyone just joining us, I’d like to lay out the context.
GW2 was a rare case of my being swept up in pre-launch hype. The latest in a long line of supposedly messianic saviours of the MMORPG genre, I actually believed that GW2 could be the revolution it hoped to be.
I got into a late beta weekend, and was blown away. I bought the game shortly after launch, and I played it heavily for several weeks, reaching max level on my Norn thief main. I had many good things to say about the game on this blog, and I had some really good times.
What I most appreciated about GW2 was how laid back and casual (for lack of a better term) it felt. Log in, go wherever you want, and find tons of cool stuff to do. It was a beautiful world full of endless exploration, and I never felt pressured into any particular style of play as I so often do in WoW.
However, by the time the Karka invasion rolled around, the luster had started to fade fast. Several irritants had begun to get under my skin, such as an excess of crowd control in high level zones and the extremely punishing mechanic of contested waypoints. Around this time, I also became heavily distracted by other games, such as The Secret World (which, as we all know, has stolen my heart now and forever).
However, the biggest factor that made me drift away from GW2 was its story. To be invested in a game long term, I need to care about its plot and setting, and to be blunt, the story in Guild Wars 2 is every kind of suck imaginable. I give them points for a diverse cast with some LGBT characters, but that’s only kind thing I can say about the story and lore of GW2.
Thus, I drifted away, but with plans to return. Let us now chronicle how that return never came to pass.
The Living Story:
The Living Story seemed like a cool idea at first, and I can’t entirely fault ArenaNet for embarking on this noble yet flawed experiment. I do respect their willingness to try new things.
The idea of a living, evolving world is, at a visceral level, very appealing. The idea that content comes and goes over the weeks, reflecting an evolving virtual reality, feels like a very welcome concession to verisimilitude. It offers an alternative to the stale and static design of most themepark MMOs.
However, it quickly became clear that the Living Story concept did not fit at all in a game like GW2.
Guild Wars 2 was designed to the casual player’s dream. You didn’t need to pay a subscription, and it didn’t have the traditional gear treadmill, so you could come and go as you please without worrying about falling behind.
The Living Story ran exactly counter to that. With nearly all new content being time-limited, anyone who wanted to keep up with the story faced arguably an even greater pressure to log in regularly than provided by subscription games.
It also put the focus squarely on the one thing ArenaNet can’t do well: story.
I tried returning to the game once or twice during the Living Story, but I felt utterly lost as to what was going on, furthering heightening my disconnect from the game’s story and sending my motivation to keep playing even lower.
These visits to Tyria also showed me that GW2 was drifting away from its original design vision in terms of gameplay. Ascended gear provided a disturbingly swift reversal of the promise of “no gear grind,” and the public events were becoming increasingly long, difficult, and mechanically complex. This seemed an attempt to silence all those critics who (not entirely without reason) called the gameplay of GW2 mindless, but neither the critics nor the developers seem to understand that such simplicity was a core part of the game’s appeal.
I came away declaring that GW2 was “a great game that is totally ignorant of its own strengths,” and that seems increasingly true all the time.
Heart of Thorns:
When Guild Wars 2 announced it was finally getting an expansion, I thought the time for my long-awaited return to Tyria had at last come. An expansion offered an opportunity to change direction for the better, and at the least, I figured having a lot of new land to explore would keep me interested for a few weeks, even if I ultimately wandered off again.
As the weeks went by, my hype level slowly rose, and I gave serious thought to pre-ordering. The concept of elite specializations interested me greatly — more playstyle options within a class is always good — and the new revenant class sounded (still sounds) very cool. I also quite liked the idea of masteries — horizontal progression is always good.
I even logged in for the first time in months and played for a couple hours. I initially wanted to check out the new (new) Lion’s Arch, but that somehow turned into doing an event chain in the Shiverpeaks, and on the whole I had a pretty good time.
I might as well be a cartoon insect for how well I react to the word “raid,” especially where Guild Wars 2 is concerned.
Did anyone — anywhere, ever — want raids in Guild Wars 2? I never heard anyone express a desire for such. Everyone seems to agree that GW2’s organized group content is a trainwreck, and I really don’t understand why ArenaNet thinks adding more players to the formula will fix that.
Still, I could have lived it if raids were an optional side feature you could ignore, but they revealed raids would be a crucial part of the story going forward. This has always been what I resent most about the traditional raiding model — locking crucial story behind the MMO genre’s most exclusive content — and it pretty much kills the last hope of my ever becoming invested in GW2’s story.
Perhaps more importantly, it signals a further shift away from the “do what you feel like” philosophy that was once the core selling feature of GW2. Suddenly it’s just another themepark forcing everyone down a single, narrow path.
It doesn’t end with raids. I had been under the impression that elite specializations would be akin to new talent choices or classes as implemented in other MMO expansions. That is, they’re available immediately after logging or at most after a minimal amount of leveling-like content.
But reading various comments and blog posts on the expansion, I learned that elite specializations actually require a fairly lengthy and not at all solo-friendly grind. This would be a baffling decision in any game, but it seems especially out of place in GW2. Though to be fair ArenaNet is already planning changes on this front.
Masteries, also, are being reported to be less a new form of horizontal progression and more a way of gating content beyond a series of lengthy grinds.
Stepping back, Guild Wars 2 now seems almost unrecognizable as the game that once captured my attention. The poster child for casual MMO gaming has done a near total 180 and now seems to be just another rigid, grind-focused themepark.
And that’s how they lost me.
* * *
Now, I can’t guarantee I’ll never come back to Guild Wars 2. We live in a world where I’m seriously considering getting into Star Wars: The Old Republic once I have a bit less on my gaming plate, so clearly miracles do happen.
The game has had an amazing journey. Unfortunately, for me, it’s been a journey in entirely the wrong direction.