Flameseeker Chronicles: Creating a better balance in Guild Wars 2 raiding
In this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’ll take a look at the most pressing gripes players have about how raiding has been implemented in GW2 while examining how this could be built upon to create larger appeal for the content that’s being created without alienating diverse sects of the game’s community.
It stands to reason that improving engagement with raiding is an all-around positive for the playerbase and ArenaNet: More players raiding means more active engagement with content that requires significant time and resource investment, after all. Not only does the raid content itself become more valuable when it engages as many players as possible, but there’s a fantastic knock-on effect to be observed too in which build-up content and general activity also would see an upturn as interested parties prepare characters for raid content. Various bosses require specific raid group compositions and meta preferences change as patches affect output, so there’s a small yet steady stream of raiding players who are continually honing their builds, leveling new characters to add something different to their usual raid lineup, and working towards improving gear on several toons at once.
ArenaNet deeply understands the development purpose and financial payoff of the content far better than I ever will, of course, so why is uptake relatively low and why hasn’t ArenaNet changed more to engage a larger playerbase? The answer is complicated, but the first point to note is that Guild Wars 2 was never originally designed with raiding in mind and so the core playerbase is not necessarily looking for this type of punishing, time-intensive content in the first place. What I will say, however, is that creating raids for the minority of players who do enjoy them isn’t an inherently bad move simply because the market for raids is niche, especially in a game with a sometimes overwhelming amount of activities to engage in that appeal to larger groups of the game’s community.
Considering the broad appeal of the large bulk of GW2‘s endgame content and ArenaNet’s flair for quaint virtual communities filled with immersive storytelling elements, one can begin to build a picture of how contrasting a raid environment must be to the daily grind. It’s not, however, as though raids are the only high-octane, challenging content presented by the game, yet it is seen as the most problematic. Raiding firstly presents a problem for those who do not wish to miss out on nuggets of lore that are contained within the content: Raid content is not at all easy for a casual player to jump into since raiders largely wish to run with other experienced raiders to decrease the likelihood of failing and wiping more times than is comfortable.
Impatience to clear content and a disdain for precious gaming time being spent dissatisfied with the outcome of all that effort makes the raiding community a competitive, sometimes exceedingly and absurdly exclusionary place to visit, so when key story content is placed within raids, it’s most certainly not as easy as simply grouping up and blasting the content to see what the fuss is all about. Even if casual players can cope with the fluctuating difficulty presented by the content, trying to convince raiders to accept non-raiders into a party can be a difficult task. Taking the first raid as an example, much of the White Mantle hype was effectively gated away behind a difficulty gate where it couldn’t be easily accessed by many players. To me, the story needs to be experienced in order to get the best from it, so watching streams and videos to find out what secrets each wing holds wouldn’t cut it for me at all.
On the flipside, difficult content must have some meaningful payoff to those who succeed to make the grueling work required of raiders feel rewarding, and lore is one of the main joys found in the game from my perspective. I can see why developers wish to throw story into each and every type of content they create: Appealing to our emotions and increasing immersion makes the content that much more gripping. Reader miol_ referenced Narrative Lead Bobby Stein in a comment on my last article, and you could see the conflict in his words and the side-stepping that happened in his addressing of how much lore would be raid-exclusive. Fractals get away with having nice lore arcs and throwbacks because of the tiered nature of the content, but while raids are simultaneously lore-rich and punishing, players will always feel shorted.
ArenaNet has been attempting to find a compromise between rewarding raiders with story and not impacting those who choose not to engage in such time-intensive, high-octane content, while also trying to create an all-in-one raiding experience that also balances accessibility and challenge rating. In my last articles comments, reader sauldo touched on how the team still hasn’t hit that sweet spot while hoping that ANet either sticks to hardcore raids without including fluctuating difficulty levels for early encounters to entice players in or come up with a compromise for more casual players. I personally would love to see the latter, moreso because I feel that introductory bosses when uptake is so low isn’t a bad strategy.
While I understand that ANet doesn’t wish to undermine the impactful, hardcore nature of high-end raiding content by going down the tiered LFR route, I feel that the decision should ultimately lie in the hands of the playerbase, just as many of the WvW changes were led by players too. One logical compromise could perhaps be the inclusion of a solo mode in which the encounters are scaled down and do not grant the same rewards as usual: Rather than necessitating group finding and making a throwaway raid-lite, make each area solo-explorable, more in line with dungeons perhaps?
Players could perhaps choose a fluid number of either players or NPCs to run with, or maybe Taimi’s wonderful virtual battle machinery back in the dragon lab could be reemployed to facilitate raid testing with some work on her part. This would not only allow players to engage with the raid story and see what raiders get to see but would also present a fabulous training ground for those who wish to raid yet don’t have the experience to land a spot in many groups. Paired training or raid spot testing could happen in this environment, and even more fun dialogue could be layered with the raid-specific content as curious Taimi gives her responses to what is found. Adding such a cool but underused plot device MacGuffin in the Living World opens the door for more virtual combat systems to be put in place that would allow players to experience content that would ordinarily be gated away yet wouldn’t be outside of the realms of in-game possibility. A girl can dream, anyway! While light streaming has already happened via challenge modes, I don’t know if ArenaNet can keep resisting the call for more access.
The addition of raiding into the GW2 mix hasn’t been to everyone’s taste, and I appreciate that coverage of raiding won’t appeal to all readers, but that’s not to say that discussions on all aspects of the game aren’t relevant and that blocks of content could ever be ignored in my coverage or that likewise problems with the raiding will go unsaid. I agree that raiding is a controversial addition to the game and that locking lore away is problematic despite my enjoying the content personally; a lore write-up for the wing is coming for those of you who want to get to grips with anything you’ve missed.
If ArenaNet hired you tomorrow with the express purpose of smoothing out the issues with raiding, how would you tackle the problem? Let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments.