Flameseeker Chronicles: Everything you need to know about Guild Wars 2’s April 2016 update

    
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Today is the day, people: I’m hoping you’re all willing and able to log in and follow along with the Q2 update patch notes because Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns has just had a major revamp with changes affecting every type of content you can think of! Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to the 16,000 or so words that comprise the Q2 patch notes in advance, but I did have the opportunity to quiz several key players at ArenaNet about the patch and get some hands-on time with the improvements in preparation for today’s launch. I joined Lead Game Designer Mike Zadorojny, Game Designer Link Hughes, and Associate Global Brand Manager Joshua Davis for an absolutely info-packed chat, which I’ll be unpacking here.

If you’re unfamiliar with the patch content, know that this is a long-awaited, largely reparative update that seeks to quell the most pressing issues the community is currently voicing. Zadorojny described the goals for the update as “reducing the perception of grind the players had with HoT, increasing the overall rewards and payouts the players get for playing the content, and getting to the fun faster.” Prepare for a long but worthwhile read: I’m hoping that this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles will help you figure out how valuable the patch will be for you and your guildmates, especially those of you who aren’t active right now. I’ve divided the information into handy content-specific sections, so feel free to scroll to the parts that are most relevant to you if you’re pressed for time.

Level_80_Boost Free max level booster and shared inventory slot

The most surprising feature that was shown to me was the addition of a free level 80 booster for every HoT owner, both present and future players included. Hughes explained that “the max level boost is an item that’s delivered to the inventory through a new shared inventory slot, a sort of bank slot that’s available to all of your characters directly from their inventory windows. We’re adding that free slot with this item, which means you can access it on any of your characters. This new shared inventory slot doesn’t count towards your limit of how many you can buy from the gem store either, so it’s a nice bonus.”

The level boost isn’t permanent until you decide to commit to it, so you have the chance to trial level 80 before using up your token.
The newly forged level 80 character will be automatically teleported to Silverwastes for the player to test the profession at max level before committing to the change, and the freshly leveled toon will come complete with a starter build and gear to match. That’s right, fair reader: The level boost isn’t permanent until you decide to commit to it, so you have the chance to trial level 80 with multiple professions before using up your token. Hughes explained that “there’s no time limit or other arbitrary restrictions except that you can’t leave this specific map on the character until you decide to either undo the boost or make it permanent.” To make your choice permanent, you simply take your character out of the Silverwastes and follow the on-screen prompts to commit.

gw121

Explaining the thought process behind introducing the max level token to all HoT owners when asked about its benefits for both old and new players, Hughes stated:”This certainly benefits new players, but at the same time we know that many people already have Heart of Thorns and are enjoying it, so we just give the boost to them as well so they can try another profession. In our game, masteries allow us to make level 80 such that it’s really your passport to everything else because we don’t have a vertical level progression system past the base levelling. You just need one level 80 and the whole world is open to you, so it’s a great way to maximise the potential of the expansion for the majority of players who don’t yet have a level 80.” I find the inclusion to be a very clever way to encourage the bulk of MMO players who never reach the level cap to explore what GW2 has to offer, especially since the expansion was so weighted towards improving the endgame.

Veteran_Greatsword_TenguChanges to the new HoT zones

Tangled Depths, Auric Basin, and Verdant Brink have all seen significant innovation happen within the original day/night cycle: The daytime participation trackers have been removed entirely in favour of more spread-out rewards that better facilitate exploration of the zones in question, and inventory issues have been remedied by reducing the amount of unstackable bag drops. The night cycle has retained its reward coordination since it best represents the coordinated, strategic nature of the events, but new once-a-day rewards will complement this alongside generally higher instances of chests, keys, event chain currency, and general rewards.

“We have a system in place called diminishing returns, which is meant to be a protection against players who find an event is broken or comes straight off cooldown and can just infinitely farm it. The problem with this system is that it started negatively impacting Heart of Thorns.”
A whole plethora of quality-of-life changes was also implemented, with “more of the waypoints being permanently available” and “adventures being easier to access and the time for completion being longer,” according to Zadorojny. One of the most important changes I think players will notice, however, is the abolishment of the unduly punishing “diminishing returns” system within the HoT zones. Zadorojny explained: “We have a system in place called diminishing returns, which is meant to be a protection against players who find an event is broken or comes straight off cooldown and can just infinitely farm it. The problem with this system is that it started negatively impacting Heart of Thorns, so if you’re playing Dragon’s Stand over and over again you could actually have this system kick into place. We removed it entirely from Heart of Thorns so there’s no fear anymore of players repeatedly playing content and running into the system accidentally.”

Finally, Dragon’s Stand is much more open and easier to navigate than before as, with the exception of the final boss area; the map is now accessible from the moment you walk in and the zone has twice the number of noxious pods as before. Enemies have been reduced along major pathways, and those pods now glow to make them easier to see as well.

Raid_LobbyGeneral PvE improvements

The LFG tool has also had a significant revamp, enabling both raid and squad support and also three new categories. Raid teams can look for single raid members and likewise, raiders can find a suitable raid team, and this is complemented by the new raid lobby. Zadorojny described the lobby as an “explorable instance in the south of Lion’s Arch that will take you into an area with access to all of the raids via portals, all of the vendors you’ll need, and training dummies to allow you to start practicing before jumping in.” Roleplayers, newbies, and achievement hunters rejoice: Three new categories mean that the aforementioned community members can now receive support in their exploits.

“We’ve also added an infinitely repeatable achievement to complete any eight dungeon paths you want for 5 gold and 150 tokens for a dungeon of your choice.”
Dungeons have thankfully not been neglected in this behemoth update, and I’m happy to report that rewards have been significantly improved even though the actual content remains untouched. Zadorojny outlined the changes briefly: “We talked in the AMA about how we wanted to bring back meaningful dungeon rewards. We’ve done this in a couple of ways: First up in all of the daily completion bonuses, with each bouncy chest’s reward being doubled. We’ve also added an infinitely repeatable achievement which is complete any eight dungeon paths you want for 5 gold and 150 tokens for a dungeon of your choice. Finally for dungeon rewards, at the end of the Aetherblade path, there’s a bunch of unique weapon skins at the end and we’ve increased the drop rate of all of them.”

Tiger_Bow_Cub

Dailies have become much more exciting too: HoT-specific additions grace the usual lineup, and we’ll also start to see jumping puzzles, adventures, mini dungeons, and dungeons paths crop up too. The meta achievement for completing three dailies now pays out two gold as well to further incentivise regular play. The two legendaries promised during Mike O’Brien’s unfortunate announcement that further legendaries are indefinitely on hold have released too, and the shortbow comes with a complete legendary journey.

“If you’re an elite player, you don’t want to play each tier, so if you beat your highest fractal tier, you’ll automatically unlock the lower ones and gain the rewards for doing so.”
Last on the PvE list is fractals: An entire rescaling and improvements to how balanced those tiers are came alongside improved rewards and scaling boss mechanics to make a much more complete, well-rounded fractals package. According to Zadorojny, fractals scaling “goes up in four bunches of 25, so it’s much easier for players to understand what’s going on, and it’s easier for us to define brackets. [..] We’re also adding new fractal daily achievements that are broken up by islands and tiers. There’ll be four achievements — one for each of the scale brackets — and completion will count toward your daily bonuses. If you’re an elite player, you don’t want to play each tier, so if you beat your highest fractal tier, you’ll automatically unlock the lower ones and gain the rewards for doing so.”

Cliffside_Fractal_BossWvW improvements

One of the major talking points of the session was understandably the WvW improvements, and I’m so glad that I have plenty to share with you in this respect. As Davis admitted, “There’s been a lot of buzz around WvW for a while now, and I know fans have been waiting for us to finally deliver something.” Changes to both matchmaking and rewarding WvW players should hopefully start improving this gameplay from Friday’s reset whenever the changes go into live beta. The two headline features for WvW are world linking and WvW reward track implementation, and Glicko will also see a reset this week to account for the large number of players who’ll inevitably jump into WvW to see the changes.

We’re basically trying to extrapolate and essentially guess what server populations are going to be like, especially around a new feature update or any sort of content drop. The other thing that’s kind of hard to quantify is how many players are going to return for this update, considering lots of the changes are directed towards WvW players and they’re things that they’ve been asking for for a very long time. I can imagine some number of players coming back to play the game again. — Joshua Davis

World linking is ANet’s solution to the population issues that have plagued WvW and isn’t permanent like a full-scale shard merge. World linking will “pair servers together using some criteria internally, such as server population at peak time, and group them together”, according to Davies, and is the process will “work slightly differently in EU because there are language considerations there.”

“You gain participation by doing things that make sense in WvW, for instance killing players, capturing points, or escorting dolyaks. The more good things you do that contribute to the war effort, the more good things you’ll get.”
Reward tracks are a massive and complex improvement that will reshape how players of all sorts are rewarded for engaging in WvW by incorporating a new mechanic called participation. Davis explained: “You gain participation by doing things that make sense in WvW, for instance killing players, capturing points, or escorting dolyaks. The more good things you do that contribute to the war effort, the more good things you’ll get. We have a brand-new reward track that will be joining some ported PvP tracks called the Triumphant Armour reward track. We’ll be introducing a brand new armour set for WvW players specifically that’ll be earned through this reward track.”

Veteran_Beetle_v2

Reward track development is far from over, and I was reliably informed that a Gift of Battle reward track would be added with several more after the system comes out of beta testing to replace the vendors. Scouts won’t be left to suffer for the thankless job anymore, and now those who have been assigned the task will be able to earn participation points proportionally. Davis explained that “for every 5 players in your squad, your commander can designate a scout, and that scout will gain participation points based on the overall participation levels of the squad.”

A new ability line has also been added with some most welcome QoL benefits. The Provisions Master line will improve a player’s ability to loot and will grant players access to the portable provisioner. The portable vendor will require badges of honor for his wares and another new WvW vendor will swap your spare badges for 18 and 20 slot bags too. I’m glad to see a better use for the badges… I know so many of my in-game friends have plenty to spare.

“There are five levels of Provisions Master and pip one allows you to purchase a permanent portable provisioner from any WvW outfitter, allowing you to purchase siege weapon blueprints from anywhere in WvW. Pip two allows you to purchase tricks and traps from the permanent portable provisioner and level three allows you to purchase food and utility consumables. Level four — and this is one we’re particularly excited about — allows you to automatically pick up loot from fallen foes. It’s happening! The final tier increases the number of badges of honour found on looting fallen foes.” — ANet’s Joshua Davis

Tiger_Spirits_5

Stability stacks will be much easier to retain from now on due to several small yet important improvements to how WvW combat will work: “Stability is changing to have an internal cooldown,” explained Davis, “so that if you get twice with 0.75 seconds, it will only consume one stack of stability.” He admitted that “this alone is probably not enough to fix the whole ‘pirate ship’ meta that’s going on where players play very conservatively or passively where they use max range and two zergs would operate like pirate ships passing by and nuking across at one another,” but an additional change to CC fields complements the stack consumption nerf nicely to hopefully make WvW combat much more active in future since “now only the first 10 players affected will get CCed or will have a stability stack removed, and then the skill will fade away and disappear.”

“Desert won’t be going away forever: We’ll allow players to experience the changes and will make sure it’s something they like and, assuming that it is, we’ll bring it back at a later stage.”
Wrapping up the list of major WvW changes is Davis’ mention of Alpine BL’s return in a few weeks, but beforehand players will enjoy a revamped Desert BL complete with far less “gimmicks and PvE mechanics” and “anything that stopped it feeling like a true WvW experience.” Davis was sure to stress that Desert won’t be going away forever: “We’ll allow players to experience the changes and will make sure it’s something they like and, assuming that it is, we’ll bring it back at a later stage.”

Spirit_WatchPvP changes

Rounding off the pile of patch notes laid out in front of the ANet devs during our chat was a little pile of improvements made to several Conquest maps, mostly focusing on the outdated secondary mechanics that “have fallen out of style since release or they’re used differently in existing meta to account for how players approach the game since players are much better in general than they were three years ago,” according to Davis.

“We mainly focused on two of the maps, the first of which was Spirit Watch. This is very close to being a competitive map, it’s a beautiful map that is one of our most recent ones, all things considered. Every two minutes in Spirit Watch going forward, the orb will spawn and will be worth double points. It will remove all your skills from your bar and replace them with a ranged autoattack and an AoE stun.

Skyhammer has been a very polarising map for a long time… some players like it, but most don’t. It just didn’t feel good and was a bad experience, so now there’s a barrier on the entire outer perimeter of the map. We replaced the glass panels on the floor, and we reworked the secondary objective. On three minute intervals, the skyhammer gate will open and teams will fight for the skyhamer platform. If you capture the hammer, all points you don’t own will be neautralised and the hammer will fire at all points simulataneously.” — ANet’s Joshua Davis

I’m certainly pleased to see that more general PvP hasn’t been ignored, and I have to admit that it was the first of the improvements that I clambered to experience when I was let loose in the stage client. The maps definitely seem much more strategic and the secondary mechanics actually feel secondary for a change, which is quite a departure from the frantic races to control those features that I knew so well.

Over to you!

I want to know everything, people! How are you finding the expansion? Has it made the expansion more enjoyable for you? If you were an inactive player, has ArenaNet done enough to get you playing again? Let me know in the comments below.

Tina Lauro has been playing Guild Wars 2 since it launched and now pens the long-running Flameseeker Chronicles column, which runs every other Wednesday and covers everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see covered, drop a comment Tina’s way or mail her at tina@massivelyop.com.

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Moirraine Campbell

Guild Wars 2 is being destroyed from within.

Ignoring and neglecting the game as well as giving god-mode powers to those who refuse to acknowledge and report something as serious as a traceroute never being able to complete to Anet’s servers.

Abusing players in email is ridiculous but happening.

Abusing the game is happening by hackers who are being ignored on a massive scale.

Unless someone does a story specifically on the problems this game is facing, the game will (or already is) become another Diablo 2 – or don’t any of you remember that management fiasco of such a beloved game?

tominva2012
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tominva2012

I always read GW2 news with interest, but, based on the changes described here, the aspects I most disliked about HoT (primarily the “punishment” of any would-be soloing and the general “herding” approach to gameplay, i.e., “you must go here, here, and here and do this, this and this in precisely this order”) are still unresolved. 
GW2 was a fine game that really lurched off in an unfortunate direction — from fun to tedious, in my view — with HoT. The base game’s explorability, accessibility, and flexibility just aren’t present in HoT. /shrug

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

Zulika_Mi_Nam  I did warn ya in the intro to flick to the relevant headings… this one was a bit of a whopper :P

DasBenty
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DasBenty

Maybe I’ll jump back in again and see whats changed. Not sure the insta level thing is any use though, I have 100 tomes of knowledge along with a couple birthday boosts. Though I don’t know anyhting will get me away from BDO at the moment

Inoxe
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Inoxe

Enikuo Why do you consider legendaries out of reach?

Equilibrium31
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Equilibrium31

Definitely one of the best patches released in a long time.  The balance changes are a bit…lacking, but in terms of content and overall changes, it’s definitely a success.

Superbrak
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Superbrak

ManastuUtakata Kaiser Sosey You kind of described the original HoT release there. Maybe Anet took notes the other way round first.

Valkyrie Noel
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Valkyrie Noel

So many bad decision designs reversed.

mmonerd
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mmonerd

OK this is one big patch overview. Now  where is coffee.

dragonwhimsy
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dragonwhimsy

Wow… I mean they gave some hints of what this patch would hold but I don’t think anyone realized there were so extensive. Between this and bringing back SAB yearly, I think you regained a lot of the goodwill you had lost the last few months. Well done!

I honestly can’t believe how much this patch has improved the game overall. This is bigger than Feature Pack 1.

The best part is how much this patch has shown they have learned. Just imagine that expansion 2 will START this way from the beginning.