Which makes sense, since according to the game director, Mike Zadorojny, the focus of what the expansion was meant to be about was radically different between the two expansions, and Path of Fire was closer to an expansion of the base game.
I had the chance to sit with Zadorojny and chat about various issues of both current development ant future direction, although we did not have that chat on the back of the griffon. (There were people waiting in line.) But considering the nature of the griffon and the talk, it might have been appropriate.
As he explained, the big difference between the expansions was the fact that Heart of Thorns, from the start, was seen as an “endgame” expansion. It was designed to give players at the cap things to do, but also was focused very much on the nature of endgame structurally.
Path of Fire, by contrast, was always meant to be much more focused on exploration and the associated experience. It extended to zone design as well; while there’s still zone-wide objectives in the expansion, the goal was to avoid having players feel as if the zone “shut down” every so often for pursuit of a single high-end objective. Having mounts in play also helped contribute to a feel of exploration and movement.
Of course, you can’t talk about endgame without talking about the game’s raids, which Zadorojny says the team is still happy with. The big difference between the raids in GW2 and in other games, as he sees it, is that there’s no way to gear past them; you can’t just earn better gear to make them less challenging, they’ve always got a skill barrier. As such, they provide a good endgame route for people who enjoy that sort of challenge, while retaining enough rewards to make them desirable.
And story? That can be one such reward. For players who can’t or won’t take part, content creators can close the gap on “missing” story, and the mainline story is never supposed to be a part of raids. It’s always something that the team is thinking about, since story is important and everyone wants to see it.
We also talked a bit about roles for the various professions, which he sees very much as an emergent property of design. When the game launched, the goal was making every profession self-sufficient; when dealing with content like raids and particularly challenging fractals, roles like tanks and healers come naturally. Balancing the roles as part of the profession is a matter of looking at things holistically, so the goal is always to ensure that even if a given profession can’t fill every role, every role has something to do and is useful in a raid.
That is the goal, anyhow. He’s aware that there are outliers.
Fractals, meanwhile, are serving as a good “replacement” for dungeons just by successfully creating a backend of reliable repeatable content. You don’t wind up running the same routes over and over, there’s already a structure for rewards and progress, and putting in new parts makes for a new experience without invalidating the old. The core is still the same; Fractals just do all of the things dungeons did, only better.
And what about PvP? The game has hit its roadblocks for things like e-sports, and the current focus of the team is on creating a healthy competitive environment to let these things start from players rather than developers. Supporting the infrastructure (like the player-run GvG tournament) helps foster more development, as this sort of competitive atmosphere only thrives when player support is backing it.
I asked about the recent rather high-profile narrative hire, and the good news is that it’s not about a change in direction – quite the opposite. Before this point, the teams for episodes were working in more relative isolation; the new hire serves as more of a showrunner or overall director, ensuring continuity and helping to bridge the gap between stories more efficiently.
As for the future of that particular storytelling… well, you’ll have to wait a little while to see how things come together. (He jokingly suggest I ask about some of the overall designs again in a year.) Every release raises the bar a bit further.
We talked a little bit about experimentation with monetization, and he noted that the Mount Select License was a direct result of specific feedback. The original idea with the randomized skins was that leaving everything to chance isn’t fun and it was meant to be helpful, but the actual execution made it clear that there was a gentler way to get the same result of “collect as many as you want.”
As he looks at it, both items were successful in terms of learning things and gauging player feedback. It’s a field that’s still being explored, in other words.
We also talked a bit about things that are probably not happening. New professions, for example, have probably been sidelined forever in favor of new elite specializations; they allow the team to change the feel of a given profession without actually forcing you to play a new character along the way. New races, too, are a lot of work for limited rewards, and any sort of console development is also not something the team is focused on.
Obviously, none of this is set in stone; he stressed that the quote to take away is not that new races will never be added. It’s just not the current direction.
He did, however, mention that some of the big shifts in season 4 were a result of programmers going under the hood to change parts of the underlying game engine, as it has expanded beyond what was originally intended for the game. So plans can always change.
Last but not least, he talked a little bit of some disappointments with how Path of Fire turned out. Obviously, the team is happy with the expansion as a whole, but he does feel like some of the item rewards were a bit too heavy on the crafting side of things. There are lots of rewards that don’t necessarily feel as rewarding as the equivalent ones in Heart of Thorns. He also would have loved to have done more multi-tier armor upgrade like the ones found in the Silverwastes, but that wasn’t quite in the cards; it’s a goal for the future.
But as a whole, Zadorojny and the team is happy with player response and the ongoing state of the game. He’s glad that players continue to support the title, and he hopes that everyone enjoys seeing where the game is going next. I was assured that it was going to be cool (albeit without details).
We’d like to thank ArenaNet, Mike Zadorojny, and assistant global brand manager Elisabeth Cardy for taking the time to answer our questions.