Picking up the Flameseeker mantle
It’s probably ridiculously obvious that my personal highlight of 2015 is taking on this column back in March. I can’t lie: I had some very big Toli-shaped shoes to fill and was justifiably very nervous about the goliath task I had ahead of me. After I can now say that I’m super-comfy with the column after riding out the ravaging storm that was the expansion launch, and I’m so pleased with how FSC is shaping up as we head towards the new year. I looked back on my introduction recently and realised that, if nothing else, I did manage to keep a strong hold on my enthusiasm for GW2 throughout 2015, and I actually adore the game perhaps even more now at the end of the year than I did at the beginning. I do try my best to temper that enthusiasm with some logical criticism and a healthy dose of skepticism, though, and I hope that came across in the last year’s column entries.
My absolute highlights in terms of 2015 content have to be the various interviews I’ve conducted over the last year. I love everything about them: Listening to new, exciting information, asking my questions and getting answers, and revisiting the nuances of the responses given as I transcribe the interview. The Hylek interview that outlines the tribal characteristics of the Maguuma Hylek made me fall in love with the race. Scott McGough’s enthusiasm is absolutely infectious and there were some great never-before-seen details in there that really hinted at how ANet would handle the mastery system before that plan was solidified to the public.
In a similar vein, I particularly enjoyed my mastery system interview with Crystin Cox at Gamescom since it was face to face and uncovered one of the most fundamentally game-changing new systems that HoT brought to the game. I’m cheating a little since this wasn’t technically part of my column, but the mastery exposé was so important to advancing us along the road to expansion launch that I had to include it as a 2015 highlight. I also got to reveal the Revenant’s elite spec to the interwebs, and the short interview with Roy Cronacher helped to solidify my opinion on the Herald and tease out more details than the press release had given me.
Silky smooth launch (for most at least)
As I highlighted in my launch diaries, the expansion launch was one of the cleanest MMO expansion launches I’ve been part of, so I have to give major props to the ANet gang for that. Most of us got through launch week with only minimal disruptions to the play experience, and those of us who were more inconvenienced were swiftly dealt with through the continual bug fixes and patches that filled HoT‘s launch week. The 64-bit client testing was a welcome addition shortly after launch as well, making the play experience that much smoother without running out of memory.
Too-quiet start to 2015 / Lack of story updates
The biggest entry on my 2015 bad list is the lack of story progression during 2015 in the run up to HoT. I most definitely understand that creating such a hefty expansion is a huge undertaking that drains resources across the board, but I would have liked to have seen less of a pre-expansion lull during the first quarter of the year. Beta testing certainly helped when it began, but perhaps making some pre-beta story drops that helped to tease the HoT content a little more would have helped blast away the tedium felt by a solid proportion of the pre-expansion playerbase.
I’m imagining some more groundwork for the foot team entering the Heart of Maguuma, maybe some sort of path forging or jungle razing missions to make creating a foothold within the Jungle that little bit easier? I may be in the minority, but I actually enjoy completing the occasional mundane busywork in my MMOs because it makes being a hero feel that much more realistic: It can’t all be valiant rescues and epic battle you know!
The push of e-sports
I can’t sum up Guild Wars 2 in 2015 without mentioning e-sports! The buzzword has been hot on the lips of ANet’s PR team, but I wonder if the players support the movement as much as the hypetrain wants us to believe. The movement against the PvP pro league is so strong that Colin Johanson had to make a forceful statement in its defence on Reddit in which he said in no uncertain terms that the esports push was vital to the future growth of GW2. I can only agree with in insofar as the recent balance patches are needed and that balance should be continually reassessed because the game is so PvP focused right now, but I don’t think voicing our concerns on PvP and its future is really jeopardising the future prospects for the title.
I should preface this section by saying that while I enjoy each of the elements mentioned below, they have undoubtedly split opinion in the GW2 community to the extent that I couldn’t include them in the good section despite my personal enjoyment.
I actually have nothing but positive outpours and happy squees to add to the topic of raiding. I have been enjoying the first raid tier and I think the dedication promised by the team in regards to this new endgame content direction is most welcome, especially for those who are disappointed by the wishy-washy support of fractals and dungeons. My column has been filled with raiding information recently, and I particularly enjoyed smashing my head against raids because I knew I could create some boss guides.
As I mentioned, not everyone is convinced that raiding belongs in GW2, and that opinion comes from an understandable opinion that what made the game great was the lack of competitive, “hardcore” endgame content. Open-to-all, friendly content has always been a firm favourite of mine too, but I’m not convinced that such content has quite as much of a compelling endgame feel, which is perhaps why so many people incorrectly dubbed GW2 the MMO with no endgame.
I have mentioned this several times before, but I really appreciate the verticality offered in the Jungle. It feels as though the team have moved a long way from the original experiments in verticality such as Dry Top to the amazingly rich jungle playground that is the Heart of Maguuma. I don’t think it would have worked as well as it does without the mastery system, so I’m very glad that ANet went in this direction for mastering the tricky jungle environment.
I have to acknowledge, however, that many other people are unimpressed with the new zone and what it brings to travelling, and that in fact many explorers feel railroaded by the mastery prerequisites that serve to block further exploration. For me, the two systems go hand in hand to make the Jungle seem vast, virtually unnavigable, and unforgiving for non-natives. I really like that we need to work to tame the wilderness, especially since it lies deep within enemy territory.
Barriers to endgame “completion”
I’ll wrap up this list by pointing out how much effort is required to gain full competency over your character and his or her environment in Heart of Thorns. I’m personally delighted that my character’s journey isn’t over within just a few short weeks, but a sizable amount of criticism was earned by ArenaNet for including questionable grinds within the new expansion. As a result, we witnessed the point requirement for maxxing out elite specializations plummet not long after the expansion released, and mastery requirements for story progression were also revisited. These changes are great compromises, reducing the grindy feel of the new mechanics without getting rid of the effort required and satisfaction that the expansion affords us.
Over to you!
2015 was filled with expansion hype, reactionary changes just after launch, and a newfound emphasis on competitive PvP. What were your highs and lows for Guild Wars 2 this year? Let me know your thoughts on how successful ArenaNet was in 2015 in the comments below.