MMO Mechanics: Innovating mechanics to refresh Guild Wars 2

I usually keep MMO Mechanics quite general by looking at several games as examples to highlight my point regarding the mechanics of choice in each article, but I have a different format in mind for this edition that I hope you’ll enjoy. I’m going to flip things around, instead using one game — and several mechanical examples — to construct my argument.

It’s no secret that I have Guild Wars 2 on the brain anyway, and with the recent April update being such a reformative hit, I felt inspired. I’ve always believed that innovating mechanics is the secret to MMO longevity and the recent quarterly update for Heart of Thorns is an excellent case study to show how mechanical tweaks specifically can refresh MMOs. In this edition, I’ll outline some of the changed mechanics that gave ArenaNet a newly invigorated playerbase and wide praise for the update.

gw2 03Using feedback to shape innovation

There’s nowhere better to begin than with a brief history of ArenaNet‘s development of its first GW2 expansion, Heart of Thorns, for those who aren’t familiar with the title. HoT introduced several new mechanics that significantly improved the endgame of GW2, including a new mastery system that allowed player experience and dedication to be reflected in-game and several combat mechanic enhancements that made characters more fluid in terms of role while also allowing each class to gain an improved skillset at endgame.

The expansion’s launch didn’t come off without a hitch or two, though, and I documented in my launch diary back in October that ANet had even then started to iteratively correct some of the most pressing gripes of the community. It started within a week of launch, when the development team scanned complaints and feedback on the official forums and the game’s Reddit to shape the most immediate pipeline for fixes after the expansion launch. This sweep highlighted that personal story prerequisites were immersion-breakingly difficult to obtain in the natural exploration of the expansion zone and its story, and also that the new specialization point system needed reforming in order to make elite specializations easier to obtain.

The job certainly wasn’t over there, especially since the expansion left a vocal proportion of players feeling dissatisfied with the direction the expansion took the title in and believing that the studio’s priorities weren’t aligned with their own. Frustrations mounted over time as players perceived that development in new areas, such as raiding, happened as development slowed in other key areas, seeing delays and cancellation of some highly requested improvements to WvW, fractals, PvP maps, and the new zone. Fast-forward to the recent April update that started to smooth over the issues: Mike O’Brien recently took up the Game Director role again and used the opportunity to refocus on reactive and iterative development that was lighter on the promise front yet weightier when it comes to delivery.

gw2 02Practical implementation of feedback

What GW2 players are experiencing with the April update is the result of responsive development, and I was particularly interested in how both old and new mechanics were reforged due to player feedback. Every area of the game was impacted, and although the changes varied in scope, most of them were very welcome and warmly received. Access to the new HoT mechanics has been made instant too with the introduction of a free level 80 booster for every expansion owner, unleashing the best mechanics that GW2 has to offer immediately to those who have purchased the access rather than putting them through the admittedly short grind to 80. The token can be trailed on as many characters as a player wishes, so players gain a solid understanding of how endgame might function with any given profession before committing too, which is an excellent mechanic to encourage lapsed players to have a fresh look at what certain builds can do.

I was particularly taken with how iterating on core mechanics has opened up the game and made fun that much easier to find: The newest level 80 zone that was a fundamental part of HoT‘s launch has had a major mechanical overhaul. The inbuilt reward systems are less rigid and railroady, giving players more frequent and attractive rewards for the effort they put in. ANet’s anti-farming diminishing returns mechanics have been axed in the expansion content because it was getting in the way of the natural running of the content and affecting rewards that could be earned by players. Making these areas much more explorable and rewarding has had a visible impact on zone population from my perspective, making the content in turn that bit easier to run because it’s simpler to find some company to do so.

One of the most contentious content types in the game is WvW: Players have been waiting for a significant length of time for reform in this department. Improved reward mechanics that equally benefit secondary support roles have been introduced, incentivising a much higher uptake for WvW as one part of a two-prong plan to improve combatant populations. A new ability line has introduced mechanics that make looting and preparing for WvW much easier too, allowing players to stay in the action with far fewer distractions. These small mechanic improvements precede the reintroduction of Alpine Borderlands: Desert has now become a live testing ground for some of the changes players have been urging ANet to make, meaning that continued feedback is available to the WvW dev team to help this long-neglected content.

gw2 00Lessons moving forward

I’ve hit on only a few ways that ArenaNet has used direct player feedback and clever mechanics to make the expansion much more palatable to GW2 fans. Staying on the pulse is one thing, but proactive, reactionary improvements to mechanics are key to healthy MMOs. It hasn’t been a smooth first expansion for the game by any stretch of the imagination, but focusing on the grievances of players and adding in a generous helping of good old-fashioned incentives in those mechanics is proving to be a good recipe for the team moving forward.

I wonder if lessons have been taken on as the company proceeds to develop its next expansion: Players have responded well to ArenaNet’s iterative approach not just because it proves that the company is listening but also because the resultant mechanics are much smarter. MMOs naturally benefit from encouraging logins and incentivising active play, so I hope that ANet keeps improving the mechanics that switch off significant sectors of the playerbase to create the version of HoT that the bulk of players want to play. Often, expansions are hard-pressed to deliver plenty of newness and excitement, but I hope that this expansion has shown that improving existing mechanics should never be forgotten in the pursuit of meeting scheduled delivery expectations and meeting financial expectations.

One thing that I would love to see continue is the current news delivery format that ArenaNet is using. Reddit AMA threads are great ways to content drop interactively, allowing for hard-hitting, immediate feedback before development is totally committed to a set path. I prefer the recent lack of hard promises because it allows the team time and reasonable scope to deliver a sensible, largely timely update rather than rushing through checklists by a set date. The focus is on iterative development pairing alongside the new developments to keep up a stream of new surprises and hooks that are well supported by updated mechanics that don’t bog a player down or disincentive play.

gw2 01Over to you!

It’s not at all surprising that fans have reacted so much more positively to this expansion than they had previously. When outdated and unwelcome mechanics are improved to remove long-standing barriers to play, players can actually appreciate the content that’s regularly delivered to its maximum potential. I’m hoping that this approach continues, that ArenaNet grows as a result, and that other development teams take note of how the vocal population has so quickly changed the beat of its drum as far as the expansion is concerned.

What do you think? Should developers focus more on delivering new content or improving existing mechanics? What puts you off in terms of mechanics, and do you think a developer could win you back with some iterative changes? What constitutes iteration and what is mere reactive panic? If you’re a Guild Wars 2 fan, what do you think of the update? Have your say in the comments.

MMOs are composed of many moving parts, but Massively’s Tina Lauro is willing to risk industrial injury so that you can enjoy her mechanical musings. MMO Mechanics explores the various workings behind our beloved MMOs. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see dissected, drop Tina a comment or send an email to tina@massivelyop.com.
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Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

CistaCista  Aww, thanks! ^.^

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

SteveLazarowitz ManastuUtakata BalsBigBrother 
“Not sure where you get information that the patch wasn’t well received…”
I never made any such claim.

SteveLazarowitz
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SteveLazarowitz

ManastuUtakata SteveLazarowitz BalsBigBrother I play the game. I’m watching map chat. I belong to a very large guid. Before the patch everyone with a seething mass of anger. That’s pretty much gone. I don’t see how anyone paying attention can say this patch wasn’t well received. There are people who have been consistently negative on Anet for months on the forums who thanked Anet for the patch. There may be a couple of holdouts, but the majority of people posting seem quite happy with the patch, as does the majority of my guild as does the majority of map chat. Not sure where you get information that the patch wasn’t well received, but I haven’t seen even a bit of indication about it.

Superbrak
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Superbrak

schmidtcapela ManastuUtakata breetoplay HidingCat BalsBigBrother I volunteer! Let me get my lab coat…

BalsBigBrother
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BalsBigBrother

breetoplay BalsBigBrother dragonwhimsy yes I am aware they are mostly posted for fun but I see the negativity and unhappiness of the path Anet are going down elsewhere, expressed by other folks.  I wouldn’t have used it as my example but it was the easiest and most succinct way to show what I saw elsewhere as opposed to posting  links to threads that people would then have to trawl through to reach the same point :-)

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

SteveLazarowitz ManastuUtakata BalsBigBrother 
/strawman. I am merely suggesting not to put weight on what is said on any forum or what is /upvoted (or /downvoted). As it may or may not reflect how the players feel collectively.
For example, out of the two /upvotes for my comment, one of them isn’t even remotely sincere. As he or she is posting *3rd party solicitations before the moderation (also see: spam bot). Therefore, you should never hold /upvotes as real evidence of anything as you appear to be doing. Just saying.
*Note: No, not Karl.

DugFromTheEarth
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DugFromTheEarth

I really wish Anet would implement a more permanent way to “portal to a friend”. They have given out a small handful of limited use items that will do this over the various months, but on a day to day basis, Im finding myself constantly wishing that I could do this, or have someone else portal to me instead. Tons of people dont have 100% world completion, or do much of the story to level up. Its just a hassle now, an unneeded speed bump. Slap a 60 min cooldown on it to keep it controlled, and all is good. If you wanted to be even more strict, just limit it to level 80 characters being able to portal. (better than not having it at all)

greywolfe_joystiq
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greywolfe_joystiq

schmidtcapela Greaterdivinity tobascodagama it was truly frustrating that to enjoy gw2 properly, you literally had to have the game on one screen and an event timer website on the other screen.  not good design, in my opinion.

greywolfe_joystiq
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greywolfe_joystiq

BritoBruno Greaterdivinity i never liked the hearts.
they never actually sold me any story or anything.  i’m aware the story was there, of course, but you could just gloss right over it by just being in the zone the heart was in and doing whatever your right-hand-panel told you to do.  it felt flat and uninteresting.  [i got one guy to 80, but i couldn’t find the will to do it again.  much less try and do the dungeons and so on that were severely overtuned unless you were in a group that knew exactly what it was doing.]

Superbrak
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Superbrak

Greaterdivinity Exactly. As much as I appreciate the vast improvements from the patch, they also serve to highlight the bad stuff they didnt/cant fix… like the zone design. Feels like they were designed with Masteries required to make exploration tolerable rather than easier. It’s quite aggravating.

SteveLazarowitz
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SteveLazarowitz

ManastuUtakata SteveLazarowitz BalsBigBrother I part of a large, active guild. I’ve heard almost no negative at all in guild chat, when I heard plenty of negative before the patch.  I assure you they’re not the same people over and over.
As for the official forums, each account that posts would have to buy a seperate Guild Wars 2 account. Even people that used to really rag on the game seem impressed. Seems like you’re lookiing for a reason to bash the game with nothing to back it up at all. Every indication I’ve seen is that this patch has been well received.

annoyedbadger
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annoyedbadger

Line with more hugs annoyedbadger If you really dont get the issue, you clearly have never played revenant.

breetoplay
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breetoplay

BalsBigBrother dragonwhimsy FWIW, I went back to the game for SAB and am still playing now. But I still voted for More SAB, Cantha, and Elf Butts. :P I definitely wouldn’t take the polls seriously. They are for fun!

Line with more hugs
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Line with more hugs

annoyedbadger
The Herald skills are not available underwater (but the works normally, Im’ not sure what your issue is), and the circle is just used as visual indicator. 
I don’t really that as things to fix.

As for events, haven’t been in a bugged one this patch. I’m sure it happens, but GW2 is pretty polished for that.

Line with more hugs
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Line with more hugs

WandaClamshuckr Line with more hugs
I don’t skip things usually.
And that’s why TESO is quite boring. When you save three villages in a zone from almost palette swapped ennemies, it’s quickly boring and repetitive.
Especially because you cannot play it like an Elder Scrolls game, you have quest hub after quest hub (even if they have one global name instead of several kill/fetch quests) to do in order.

That’s too bad, because those problems are mostly fixed in the DLC.
It’s quite good, level scaled, and also has more flavor. I’m sure that the Dark Brotherhood DLC will be nice, when all you have is self contained 10min quests to find a Khajit or something… that’s tedious.

alizbth
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alizbth

my Aunty Riley just got a new gold BMW M3 Convertible from only workin part time online…,,.,.,.,,,,,,,,,.,.,.follow this link…..dtrumpview.comᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵ

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

schmidtcapela ManastuUtakata breetoplay HidingCat BalsBigBrother 
O.o

Damonvile
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Damonvile

dragonwhimsy WandaClamshuckr Line with more hugs There are only 7 basic plots in story telling, so it’s not very hard to make the argument that two games share similar story lines. What’s not easy to do, is show someone a game that doesn’t have any of these simple 7 ideas as the basis for any and every story they tell.

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

Greaterdivinity tobascodagama
Back when I was playing, I sweat, the events would vanish as soon as I had time and was close enough to do them, and appear in force when I was getting ready to log off.

Or, in other words, while I was hailing the planned events as the future of MMOs before the game launched, GW2 proved me just how better fixed, dependable content is, even if predictable. Because, at the very least, I can find it when I’m in the mood and have time for it, whereas with GW2’s events I would often leave a gaming session empty-handed because no event would present itself.

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

ManastuUtakata schmidtcapela breetoplay HidingCat BalsBigBrother

We can have Elf butts, as long as they are properly and scientifically measured…

… this is getting weird, isn’t it?

BritoBruno
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BritoBruno

Greaterdivinity BritoBruno Never said i don’t agree with you. I think having reliable sources of xp coupled with events the best way to play a themepark.

BritoBruno
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BritoBruno

Karl_Hungus BritoBruno Agreed. Balance patches are exactly that. Nothing less, nothing more. You balance what’s already being used, or not being used, but you avoid trying to bring new crap that will screw such balance.

Karl_Hungus
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Karl_Hungus

BritoBruno Karl_Hungus 
And that, I think, is okay. My only reaction was to this specific article calling such changes “innovative” when in fact, it’s far too rooted in common sense to be innovative. People are treating this latest patch like GW2’s renaissance when it’s more like, fixing some of the egregious mistakes that prevented HoT from being the game’s revival that it was intended to be. But I agree that it’s good they’re going back and fixing shit instead of blindly pushing forward for the sake of pushing forward.

Grimmtooth
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Grimmtooth

I still haven’t had a chance to get back to see the new changes but they sound very positive.
I know it’s early but there have been 2 types or updates that are generally well received, Story/Seasonal content updates & Quality of life updates based on player feedback.
This definitely sounds like the 2nd type. This will be the 3rd one of these by my count, The one that allowed players to change builds w/o buying an item to do it, The one that got rid of skills being  locked behind achievements & now this othne.

I applaud the openness of development team under the new(old) leadership & I hope they continue it even if the news is bad. Bad news is better than no news!!!

Greaterdivinity
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Greaterdivinity

tobascodagama It’s variety. There are the hearts for you to work on if you want, or you can work on events. I liked being able to switch between the two and use one or the other to fill in missing experience. Having to rely solely on events annoys me. If I want to run around exploring, it’s because I want to explore. Not because I have to hunt down an event to get me enough experience to unlock the next mastery level.

Greaterdivinity
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Greaterdivinity

BritoBruno And it was a fantastic deviation, IMO. I much prefer having those reliable XP/activity bases to fill in any gaps that come from events that are either impossible to complete on your own or not spawning. I’m much of a fan of progressing through those than following some mindless zerg from event to event to event to event to event.

tobascodagama
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tobascodagama

Greaterdivinity Never was a fan of hearts, myself, but I totally get what you’re saying. The Maguuma zones lack mindless casual grinding activities. Adventures are supposed to fill that role, but you have to actively seek them out and deviate from normal gameplay to do them. Not quite the same, really.

BritoBruno
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BritoBruno

tobascodagama Karl_Hungus That’s what balance is. Not adding new things, but fixing the weak ones, and tuning the stronger.

BritoBruno
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BritoBruno

Karl_Hungus Well, it isn’t anything new, really, but it’s needed and it’s a good step.
They’re changing crap, not making new crap, thank god.

BritoBruno
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BritoBruno

dragonwhimsy distaste Game launching without LFG. Bad endgame. Terrible skillbalance, terrible traits, bugs still plaguing classes to this day.
No amount of content will polish the turd part of GW2. And varied is a stretch. So is interesting. I don’t know about you, but Scarlet Briar was a pain in my fucking ass.
GW2 has to release patches to fix design issues. That what he meant. They’re finally getting to a direction now, but this is just a taste. That’s why i didn’t went crazy about it. Because i still have to see more to see results.

BritoBruno
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BritoBruno

Greaterdivinity Bear in mind that hearts were a deviation. GW2 was going to be fully events.

BritoBruno
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BritoBruno

schmidtcapela MorpayneRADIO GW1 was actually a pvp focused game.
The PvE part was worked on xpacs and was pretty open, but the focus of the game was the pvp wars and competitive pvp.

dragonwhimsy
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dragonwhimsy

MorpayneRADIO That’s not even a term that means anything. The first game didn’t have “guild wars”. It had guild based PvP, that isn’t anything like a “war”. WvW meanwhile is heavily guild based and is much more like a “war”. If they DID add a guild PvP system like in GW1 hardly anyone would play it. 

You can join a spvp or wvw based guild and have guild battles in your guild arena. Plenty of options there.

dragonwhimsy
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dragonwhimsy

distaste Silliness. GW2 has been putting out more varied and interesting content than most MMO’s the last 3 years. And they put far more effort into features and quality-of-life than any MMO I’ve ever seen. 

They did have a few  missteps with HoT’s but that doesn’t equate with what you are saying even remotely.

dragonwhimsy
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dragonwhimsy

WandaClamshuckr Line with more hugs All you’re really saying is that the quests are likek vanilla WoW but with better text descriptions. Which is cool, but it’s not really disproving his point.

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

schmidtcapela ManastuUtakata breetoplay HidingCat BalsBigBrother 
So wait…no Elf butts? :(

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

MorpayneRADIO 
Ironically, what prevented me from getting the first Guild Wars at launch was, in part, the name; I thought it would be a PvP-centered game, so I ignored it until years after, when I realized it was very much a PvE game at heart.

MorpayneRADIO
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MorpayneRADIO

What Guild Wars 2 needs is meaningful guild wars.

Greaterdivinity
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Greaterdivinity

Man, the patch definitely improved things for me but I still loathe the zone design. The look gorgeous visually, but hot damn are they a nightmare to navigate. I miss the zone progression from vanilla, where you had hearts as well as the usual vistas/PoI/skillpoints to give you experience. Hearts are gone now so there’s a greater reliance on group event farming, which was always an option but never really felt necessary. Exploring feels more like a chore to me than the fun activity it once was : /

MrSlow
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MrSlow

Maybe they could try some further innovation and instead of sending me come back to GW2 emails maybe they could try ‘why did you leave’ and ‘what would need to change for you to come back’.

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

ManastuUtakata breetoplay HidingCat BalsBigBrother 
A serious scientific survey needs to either choose carefully the people that will be surveyed (instead of just posting the question to see who answers), or else do some heavy duty de-skewing of the answers (which requires the researchers to have a bunch of data about the player base already).

WandaClamshuckr
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WandaClamshuckr

Line with more hugs “If you think that “being better than Vanilla quests” is enough to not be anything else than WoW, you’re delusional.”
I’m not sure where you managed to pull that out of my commentary.  At all.

I find that some people click through quest dialogue, preferring to speed things up.  So, with that in mind, you could get the impression of vapidity if you choose to ignore the substance.  Then, yes, a quest would become a series of click on that NPC, do something, run back and click again.

If that isn’t what you are doing, then please tell me what you are smoking.  Because, again, your description of what ESO is and the reality are light years apart.

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

BalsBigBrother dragonwhimsy 
“I am still on the fence about playing GW2. (6%, 60 Votes)”
Oh snap, I should of voted for that one instead. >.<
…so..err, make that line 61 and 132 for “Elf butts”, for the record. Thanks. :)

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

SteveLazarowitz BalsBigBrother 
I read that as,”…that received about 900 upvotes from 10 obsessed fans with multiple posting accounts”, with anything regarding Reddit’s voting mechanics. So yeah, that doesn’t really fly with me either.

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

breetoplay HidingCat BalsBigBrother 
Yeah…not very many scientific surveys, even internet ones, have Elf butts as an option. o.O

BalsBigBrother
Guest
BalsBigBrother

dragonwhimsy BalsBigBrother Yeah and 50% said they would not be going back /shrugs.  I am in no way wishing for GW2 to fail that is not something I do and I do hope you are right as that will mean that there is more chance that something will be added that will click for me in the future.  What they currently have is not doing it though me me personally and it seems there are others that think the same too (and those that don’t also which is cool too)  :-)

Are you playing Guild Wars 2 and why? (Choose up to three responses.)I am a current player who will keep playing because of the patch. (11%, 116 Votes)I am a current player who will keep playing for some reason unrelated to the patch. (13%, 132 Votes)I am a current player who is quitting because of the patch. (0%, 4 Votes)I am a current player who is quitting for some reason unrelated to the patch. (1%, 6 Votes)I am a former player brought back by the patch. (11%, 116 Votes)I am a former player brought back by something unrelated to the patch. (3%, 30 Votes)I am a former player, but this patch will not bring me back. (36%, 367 Votes)I am a former player, but nothing will ever bring me back. (14%, 141 Votes)I have never played GW2 and will not play it now. (2%, 21 Votes)I have never played GW2 and will not play it now specifically because of this patch. (0%, 0 Votes)I am still on the fence about playing GW2. (6%, 60 Votes)More Super Adventure Box, please. (4%, 42 Votes)1Cantha now! (10%, 99 Votes)Elf butts. (13%, 133 Votes)w
Total Voters: 1,032

paragonlostinspace
Guest
paragonlostinspace

Filur BalsBigBrother Perception aye Filur, interesting thing. GW1 came out in April 2005 and to me didn’t feel unique and actually as a long time online and offline gamer felt rather limited and dated with a limited UI.

Vexia
Guest
Vexia

Damonvile breetoplay HidingCat BalsBigBrother Claim your birthright as a Special Person! Vote on the Leaderboard… today!

annoyedbadger
Guest
annoyedbadger

ok, tried jumping back in, found broken event after broken event, saw they still had not sorted out the revenant no underwater herald thing, and you still have that fucking stupid purple circle under your feet the whole time (which looks ridiculous), and left. If they care so little that they cant sort out stuff like having to manually swap aspects every time you enter water as a herald, its clear that they just dont give a fuck about quality.

Damonvile
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Damonvile

breetoplay HidingCat BalsBigBrother So….you’re saying if we vote…..we’re…..special ? :)

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