Flameseeker Chronicles: Guild Wars 2’s Living World is a barrier to entry

    
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I have really liked Guild Wars 2’s story in the last few years. Quite honestly, I wasn’t crazy about a lot of the base game’s story; the way ArenaNet did dialogue cutscenes at launch was awkward, once you get to Orr the story really starts to drag, and a lot of the early Living World stuff felt rushed. But as the years have gone on, all of that has gotten progressively better. I’m a lot more attached to Taimi than I ever was to Zojja, for example, and I was a lot more excited by the buildup to Path of Fire than I was for Heart of Thorns.

Recently, we were chatting in Massively OP’s virtual office and I said something about how much better the game’s story had gotten in recent years, and I was surprised at how many staffers had never gotten into the story-driven content updates, not because they didn’t like the gameplay or the story but because of how lost they felt being so far behind. The Living World, which I would list as one of the game’s biggest assets, is also one of the biggest barriers to entry for many casual and intermittent players.

The first and most significant problem is that Living World Season 1 is completely gone. It blows my mind that someone at ArenaNet said out loud, “Hey, we should do a bunch of important storytelling in temporary open world events that no one will ever be able to see again,” and then whoever was above that person greenlit the idea. It’s honestly one of the most frustrating things about Guild Wars 2. It wouldn’t be such a terrible thing, except that those episodes introduced almost all of the new main characters in season 1.

Whenever this criticism comes up, someone invariably chimes in that everything you need to know about season 1 you can deduce from the first chapter of season 2. I’m actually making it my summer project to go back through the story from beginning to end, so I recently played these early chapters. Sure, you can figure out that there was a Sylvari named Scarlet who went crazy and smashed up Lion’s Arch and awakened Mordremoth. But what you don’t get to see is the introductions and backstories of important characters like Rox, Braham, Kasmeer, Marjory, Taimi, and Canach. I was taking a break from the game when the Living World was first introduced, and I’m actually still a little fuzzy on the origins of some of these characters — even after reading wiki articles and watching fan-made recap videos — because I never got to experience the story personally.

I also can’t believe that ArenaNet still hasn’t found some way to give players the ability to go back and play season 1 in some form. You can watch a short cutscene with Magister Ela Makkay in Lion’s Arch, but that’s hardly the same thing as actually being there. I realize that this would be challenging because season 1 stories took place over entire zones rather than instances, and there were a lot of group events involved that would have to be soloified, but it would be great if the game could give us some kind of flashback CliffsNotes version where we can at least play through the important events that we’re supposed to pretend our character took part in.

As for the seasons we can still play, a lot of players feel that the task of catching up is a chore. When Path of Fire came out, for instance, a couple of my friends who play Guild Wars 2 casually were excited to jump right in and play it, but the story picks up so abruptly at a point in the story that had been built up for a whole season that they felt as if they had to go back and catch up on all of what happened between the end of Heart of Thorns, the last content they played, and the start of Path of Fire. For them, and many other players, that was enough to push them right out of the game and never come back, even for an expansion.

Worse, if they didn’t log in while a given chapter was current, they actually have to pay money for what they could have gotten for free if they had just remembered to log in. Guild Wars 2 is generally an extremely casual-friendly game. Why punish casual players like this? I can’t imagine that ArenaNet is making enough money off of old Living World chapters to justify the number of people who shrug and walk away because the game has gated the story behind microtransactions.

So how do the devs fix this problem? Well, there’s not a lot you can do for existing episodes, except to have an optional catch-up cutscene at the beginning of each chapter/expansion, sort of like what you see at the beginning of each episode on many TV series (“Last time in Guild Wars 2…”). We don’t need every single detail, but enough to fill us in on the relevant details of why we’re now trying to not kill dragons, why the humans now have five gods, and why Braham is bald and Rox is dressed like a hippie. These cutscenes would definitely need to be in-game; if a casual player has to go to YouTube or a wiki to find your story, it might as well not exist. I know that fans have put this kind of thing together, and I think it would be great if ArenaNet could hire a member of Guild Wars 2’s wonderful creative community to produce in-game recap videos like this.

What could the studio do to fix this going forward? One option is to just get rid of the Living World altogether. A lot of games survive on an expansion every year or two with only a few patches in between. The problem with that is that regular, free, story-centered content updates has always been one of the best selling points of the game. There’s no level inflation and relatively little gear treadmill, so story really is the main thing that keeps people coming back. Dishing it out only once a year isn’t going to help with player retention.

I think the best option is to have the expansion and Living World stories be self contained. Each chapter of The Living World should start its own story, separate from anything that came before. Then, by the end, that story should wrap everything up and the next season or expansion should have a whole different, self-contained story. Teases and callbacks are fine, but nothing that will leave a player who hasn’t played the whole story feeling lost, or a loyal fan feeling talked down to. The fact that ArenaNet is creating artificial barriers to entry in a game that, for all intents and purposes, should allow you to do all post-80 content in any order, is just short-sighted design. Guild Wars 2 deserves better.

Flameseeker Chronicles is one of Massively OP’s longest-running columns, covering the Guild Wars franchise since before there was a Guild Wars 2. Now penned by Tina Lauro and Colin Henry, it arrives on Tuesdays to report everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see explored, drop ’em a comment!
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Eamil

When Path of Fire came out, for instance, a couple of my friends who play Guild Wars 2 casually were excited to jump right in and play it, but the story picks up so abruptly at a point in the story that had been built up for a whole season that they felt as if they had to go back and catch up on all of what happened between the end of Heart of Thorns, the last content they played, and the start of Path of Fire. For them, and many other players, that was enough to push them right out of the game and never come back, even for an expansion.

This makes no sense to me. If you enjoy the story, why is catching up on it a chore? If you don’t enjoy the story, why does it matter if you’re not caught up?

AEsylumProductions
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AEsylumProductions

I agree with the criticism about a lack of Season 1, but nothing that people haven’t been complaining about since forever.

The complaint about Living World episodes gated behind pay-walls is a little ill-considered though.

From a business point of view, ArenaNet has to try and improve player retention and DAU figures. The author is probably right that ArenaNet doesn’t make much in revenue from selling Living World episodes. I don’t think that was ever the point. Having a limited time free access to Living World episodes is a consumer-friendly way to boost retention, especially when you consider their slow delivery of episodes. If the author’s friends already had the game while the episodes were out, the onus was on them to log in regularly to get the episodes. In fact, screw that, log in once per 3 months, that’s a really low ask.

As for players who are new to the game, yes the barrier to entry for the story is VERY daunting. I always feel ArenaNet as a publisher in this respect can spend more time thinking about the UX of a newly acquired player who is buying or considering to buy expansions.

Living World episodes should absolutely be bundled together with expansions. If they are generous, have it bundled free. If not, have it bundled with expansions at original or discounted price. I’m confident that negative feeling of having to pay for Living World would be negligible if not non-existent if everything was available in a single purchase. Have those limited time sales for Living World seasons all you want. But bundled Living World with expansions should always be a thing.

It isn’t a matter of retention when it comes to players buying expansions. They are new customers and they shouldn’t be left feeling like they need to spend AGAIN after JUST buying the expansion in order to unlock story content that was released before they got into the game. It’s all about psychology, it’s less a problem of price than a problem of the number of times you have to pay. To new players, buying an expansion only to go in and find Living World episodes locked behind a paywall is the same experience as buying a game and getting Day One paywalled DLC.

This can and should be better.

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7BitBrian

Game of Thrones having books and Tv Seasons before the final is a barrier to entry and it’s ridiculous that they expect you to pay for them.

This is what you sound like.

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7BitBrian

The complaint that you have to pay for content you missed getting for free bugs me to no end, reeks of entitlement, and pollutes the entire article because of it.

Name 1 other MMO where you dont have to pay for the old content you missed. You even get the chance, as you mentioned, to get this content for free, and you are complaining that the limited time free content became not free anymore exactly when they said it wouldn’t and now you cant get it for free anymore. It sounds like you would complain to a retail chain that you missed their promotion for free items just for showing up, 3 months after the promotion ended.

Also the entire premise of this article can be applied to every single MMO and live service game ever made. WoW is currently in a new expansion and if you purchase a subscription and then also purchase a boost to get your character to the current content(already harder than GW2, a bigger barrier), you are then thrown into a scenario for the Battle for Lordaeron and have no clue what is going on on how and why the characters got there.

You then proceed to plan through the expansion story meeting and interacting with characters that came from the stories before, some last expansion, some from the one before, and so on. Are you complaining about WoWs old expansions and story all being a barrier to entry for it? Do you feel that argument would go over well?

You’re basically saying that having old content at all is a barrier to entry because you feel like you have to play it to understand the story. You then complain about Season 1 which isn’t in the game anymore so is no longer your perceived barrier, lol.

Fact is, your complaint applies to every game ever, and every medium of entertainment ever. And to use it to try to justify complaining about having to pay for the content people worked hard to create, one of the few revenues streams ANet has because they already charge for so little……Just wow.

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Suikoden

This is a tough one. I love the Guild Wars 2 story and Lore. I’ve even read all the paperback novels (I believe there are only 3 but if anyone knows more please let me know). I like that there is continual story in GW2. I also like that the story isn’t gated behind group content, because as a game ages it gets harder to find groups for that content. That is actually one issue I have with their dungeons; there is good background story in those dungeons that really help to understand the larger story, but not many people play dungeons and even less will let you watch the cutscenes. A dungeon finder with an option to queue for story cutscenes or not would be great.

I am also shocked that the Living Story Season 1 is lost to the ages, you summed it up best when you said, “who in their right mind approved that?” However, I love that the game actually changed after that; Lion’s Arch is actually different post Season 1. I kind of wish they would do more of that. For example, Main scenario story quests that are instanced in Lion’s Arch will still show you the old Lion’s Arch. So similarly, they could do the same thing when replaying other past Living Seasons. Like what if an entire section of Divinity’s Reach gets destroyed and they change it in game. I love that kind of stuff.

I also agree that the Living Seasons can be a barrier because they do tend to drag on in a way, and if you’re not really engaged in the story it can be intimidating to plow through. But that’s no different really than if you were to plow through 3 expansions of FFXIV MSQ either. However, I am also shocked they still charge for certain chapters. That blows my mind and makes no sense, and I’m glad you made that point.

All in all, GW2 is still a fantastic game, and deserves a place in the top 3 of current MMOs in my opinion. But this is a very good topic of discussion.

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Jeromai _

I played through every last week of Living Story 1 and to be honest, I’m -still- fuzzy on the origins of the above named characters.

Canach appeared out of nowhere as a mini-villain bossfight in Southsun. Rox traumatized everyone with her eyes when she sprouted up out of the ground with Braham, the Molten Alliance and a whole bunch of signposts without a big bad villain in sight. Kasmeer and Marjory at least had a lil noir detective vignette introduction, and I don’t recall where Taimi sprung up.

Even if you missed Season 1, you probably didn’t miss much active dev storytelling story-wise. What you did miss is where the players filled in the gaps with nostalgia and old memories.

However, what Taimi is most memorable for is her actual character development – tragic backstory (disabled, terminal illness, still a whole person with hope and grit) and Anet’s care in -visibly developing her over time-, growing her in size, demonstrating and showing her relationships (with her golem Scruffy, v1, v2.0, with Blish, etc.)

What the Living World and Season 1 was really crucial for is exactly that, a sense of development and change over time. Not for characters, but for the world as a character, situated in place and time, landmarked by events. And for the players, with new gameplay and content to learn and adapt to.

The execution may have been shoddy and rushed in parts but the whole itself was a great concept and valuable. Monthly and quarterly seasons and leagues bring back players, we see more games doing this now.

Contrast it with if players missed the later episodes. Sure, they all exist for theoretical playthrough. But first you have to buy them (barrier), and then you have to invest the immense amounts of time to play them from start to finish when you actually want to be caught up and playing the newest content (barrier yet again.)

The more episodes (plus one open world map per episode, no more, no less) pile up, the larger the barrier gets, the less content variation there is… that catch up scenario is no less depressing than content one has missed and will never be able to play again.

I do concur with one of the proposed solutions. Self-contained stories per season.

The epic straddling of a bunch of self-insert Destiny’s Edge hobos across multiple seasons led to this mess of no-head, no-tail stories if you didn’t play the entire thing from start to finish. It might be better if Anet takes more pages from their open world and goes for smaller contained stories and let us witness characters that develop and grow over one season and close their chapters there. Then the next season lets us meet new characters and so on.

Of course, smaller plot threads could span season to season for the ultrafans in the know, but if each season is contained and lasts a month or three, then missing out is less of a problem and the world as a whole can still embrace a feeling of change, rather than this current feeling of being fossilized in time per zone and static.

One other possibility is to take a page from Warframe and allow periodic event replays so that missing out the first time doesn’t mean missing out forever. Storywise, this is trickier to pull off, a believable recurring calamity, so the former option sounds better to me personally.

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Leshe Cameron

We have always hoped, and at times ANet have implied, that there would be a way of playing through LW1. I experienced some of it, and was glad I had, and that it changed the world in the way it did, but I regretted that there was some I missed, and that the world was changed. (Especially Lion’s Arch. The skritt couple who parted during the sad music. “By Ogden’s hammer! What savings!” etc.) Even if we could play LW1 again it wouldn’t give us back what has gone.

And yeah, maybe you don’t need to experience the story to know most of what’s going on, but you’ll never see the development, or Kas and Jory becoming close, or the lighthearted moments in the tavern in Divinity’s Reach.

So just a couple of days ago I was telling a friend of an idea I’d had, that would give a whole lot of insight to new players and nostalgia to those who were there. And it works well with the current fad of time-locked/progression servers for nostalgia in EQ1, EQ2 and WoW.

Create a LW1 server. It should be feasible to have visiting; it wouldn’t be part of the megaserver in that you’d never be assigned to it without choosing to visit it, but it ought to be possible to piggy-back the server on the current server visit mechanisms. Run the LW1 events from start to reconstruction of Lion’s Arch once per year (18 months? Two years? A year might be too rushed, but for the server purposes you wouldn’t need to draw the events out, and the content already exists). All of the character story can coexist as it did during LW1, so you could actually do your personal story without the bizarre jolt of being in old Lion’s Arch after entering the instance in a nonsensical location.

With a year’s rotation you could experience the story *as* dynamic content, just as it was designed, get caught up for LW2/Hot, and optionally complete your personal story before the world changes.

Obviously it isn’t a matter of loading the server up with old code and pressing go, but GW2’s design keeps low level zones viable, new classes would be no more overpowered on the LW1 server than they are in live, and there shouldn’t be the major code changes that make it impossible to go back to launch code for EQ1/EQ2 or require a different client. Anet isn’t looking to spend a ton of cash, but they have all of the art, all of the voice acting, all of the event designs for season 1 already.

I would personally absolutely love to go back to fill in the gaps I missed in LW1, for story, and to see all of the content that I didn’t get to spend long enough with during the first pass.

Marjory Delaqua: How’d you get out of all that without a single smudge or tear on your dress?
Kasmeer Meade: It’s not a dress. It’s an illusion. You think I’d take my best dress into a place like that?
Marjory Delaqua: An illusion? You mean you’re…
Kasmeer Meade: Naked. Is that a problem?
Marjory Delaqua: Noooo. Not a problem.

Yangers
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Yangers

It’s one the easiest games to get into. You buy an xpac and do the story. The LS episodes are dirt cheap for cash, or a minor amount of playing time will get them for nothing, by swapping gold to gems.

Now, if you wanna criticize the story itself, I’m down with that. I have a lot of issues with that myself, but come on. It’s not that hard to access the story.

As for SEASON 1? Yeah, I was for a long time of the opinion they should haul ass and fix that aspect up. But after watching Woodenpotatoes video on how S1 works, its really complicated it seems.

S1 is simply not compatible with re-playablility in its current form – it would basically need to be rebuilt from the ground up. It was temporary, open world content, that was designed to be ONE TIME events. Looking back that’s terrible, but it is what it is. The content was also designed around having large numbers of players all the time – this will never work with story mode. They were quasi meta events of their time, and ‘story moding’ them would completely strip them of their essence, and remove everything that made them great.

One suggestion I have seen is to make them fractals, for small groups. You just will never be able to capture the community zergs in a solo story mode.

(Edited by mod. Please review the commenting code.)

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Bruno Brito

I expected someone with a class icon to have a pretty biased opinion but christ:

This is such a terrible attitude.

So, you don’t expect to pay for content, but then complain that they previously gave it away for free?

Now, I’m not usually one to crack out the French, but are you f**king kidding me? God forbid people actually pay for anything these days.

Don’t be such a cheapskate.

You can go back to circlejerking reddit now.

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Anton Mochalin

I like GW2 a lot but reading this post I was thinking “oh no please please ANet don’t listen to him”. I’m totally not sold on the idea of Living World being a barrier to entry – one can easily play GW2 and have fun without doing most of the story content and that’s one of its advantages.

GW2’s story isn’t bad but it’s not brilliant either (actually after playing games like Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: KOTOR, Dragon Age Origins and Deus Ex: Human Revolution I can say I still have never seen a really good story in a videogame – any average fantasy/sci-fi book has a more entertaining story). And what’s most important is that GW2’s story is so much disconnected from everyday gameplay that all that Elder Dragon thing seems “out of this world”. A couple of Orr Risen Veterans have a better chance at killing an average player than any of these Elder Dragons – not even speaking of lvl 80 areas’ Champion bosses. Elder Dragons are just a fairy tale in GW2 and we have more than enough of that fairy tale.

Any resources ANet could spend on improving Season 1 experience or anything related to already released episodes’ story would find a better use in new events, weapons, mounts, raids, balancing PvE or PvP or WvW etc etc.

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Bruno Brito

PvP or WvW etc etc.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA++++

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Anton Mochalin

Yes there’s PvP scene in GW2 and yes ANet said they’re going to make some balancing effort there and though I don’t play PvP in GW2 I still consider that a better use of limited resources than doing Season 1 “rework” or whatever it may be called.

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Bruno Brito

Yes there’s PvP scene in GW2

I’m aware, i played it for quite a while.

yes ANet said they’re going to make some balancing effort there

How did that work for them before?

though I don’t play PvP in GW2

Then you don’t know the shitshow it is.

I still consider that a better use of limited resources than doing Season 1 “rework” or whatever it may be called.

Except: 1- PvP and WvW issues are not resource-based. It isn’t that Anet doesn’t have the resources, they just split them towards PvE, because this game has core issues that make PvP and WvW complete crap and no ammount of resources or balancing can change that.

and 2- Allowing the Living Story to be played for free, instead of having to buy them one per one, doesn’t take any resource whatsoever.

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Natalyia

WoodenPotatoes did a great video on LW Season 1 and the story discontinuity it causes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNQeTMndyxY

I do think they need a better solution to LWs1’s content – too much of the rest of the LW story is founded on what happened there, and you’re just dropped in with nowhere near enough context. Fractals seem like a likely venue to let people re-experience some of that. There’s no way to just “put it back in”, because it changed the open game world as it played out – but they could certainly use Fractals (which let you relive anything in time/space) to let players revisit the key story beats.

They could even give you a Durmond Priory over-quest to play those Fractals and add some more context. It would be hugely better than the state of the game now, and wouldn’t be as awful to implement as trying to make it a whole new season akin to 2-4.

It will be interesting to see what they do when they drop the next expansion. It seems that’s the plan with the company now refocused on GW2, but it seems really unlikely that an expansion that was built without mounts in mind would satisfy anyone now. But gating the new expansion on the purchase of the prior one also seems unlikely – and they can’t keep adding mounts.

If (wish-fulfillment engaged) they go to Cantha, they could add Canthan versions of all the base mounts to the expansion. Existing players would get a new mount skin, and players without Path of Fire would get the mounts. But I don’t think that could be the “feature” of the new expansion… They could just include the two older expansions with the new one – it will have been long enough that few players would likely feel cheated at that point – but not none.

I don’t agree with your conclusion, however. Constantly introducing new characters and plots with every season puts a hard limit on the stories they can tell, and I don’t like that idea. They do need a better solution to “catching up” players with what has gone before, but that’s too blunt an instrument to use.

Using the Durmond Priory as the framing arc for a few Fractals highlighting the past season’s key moments seems like it would work – if you don’t care to do the Fractals, then at least you’ve got more than an email and a handful of sentences. And it would expand the pool of Fractals available to the game while using maps and assets they already have. It wouldn’t be zero work (they’d still have to design the encounters, etc.) but it would be cheaper than a from-scratch Fractal.

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Anton Mochalin

That’s a really good idea about Fractals – that way we could have non-linear story re-lived in any order, even some glimpses from the future maybe? And that wouldn’t create that stupid effect mentioned in the discussion – when one saves the world from Zhaitan and someone else saves the world from Kralk at the same time etc. It would be nice to visit pre-Scarlet Lion’s Arch – and why not visit even some GW1’s locations? That non-linearity could provide so much freedom to do all sorts of interesting gameplay – why not have “hidden” fractals unlocked with an item dropped by some particular boss or bought with some area’s currency and allowing to relive that boss’ or area’s story?

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NecrococoPlays

Well, for what it’s worth, they already have added some LW1 events via Fractals. Tower of Nightmares was one of the major LS1 updates (the first one I participated in, even). You don’t get to enjoy the dialogue or the fun of raiding the tower with your entire server, but you can at least see part of what happened.