Flameseeker Chronicles: What we saw (and what we didn’t) in Guild Wars 2’s Icebrood Saga announcement event

    
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This past weekend’s announcement of Guild Wars 2’s continuation of the Living World story, entitled The Icebrood Saga, was met with all of the fanfare ArenaNet could muster, renting out the Moore Theater in Seattle near PAX East and inviting fans in Seattle and on Twitch to watch the unveiling. You can check out our written play-by-play and watch a replay of the full presentation here. We got a beautiful new trailer, and some juicy new details about where the game is heading, starting with the prologue to The Icebrood Saga, called Bound by Blood, on September 17th. We also got a heap of disappointment from the community.

But in this week’s Flameseeker Chronicles, I’m going to focus on what we got from the presentation – and what we didn’t get.

What we did see

The biggest question mark that I was left with after the presentation was the term “saga.” The presenters made it clear that they are ditching the term “season,” which they have been using since Living World was introduced in 2013, in favor of the word “saga,” but the difference isn’t intuitively clear. When asked about what that meant, narrative designer Novera King put it this way: “You can still expect the awesome episodic content that you’re used to. The difference is that we’ve now got four content teams, and so that kind of gives us a little bit of leeway on what a ‘release’ is.” Narrative lead Juliana Nardin chimed in, suggesting that, “Sometimes that’s going to be a story-focused episode, but it could also mean expanding existing content or focusing on another element of the game, or trying a new type of content that we’ve never tried before.” King summed the difference up by saying, “It’s bigger than a season. It’s a saga!”

That’s great PR, but it’s still not entirely clear what that entails, and only time will tell. However, I imagine it being sort of like the early Living World seasons, where each chapter may not necessarily give us a whole new map but rather expand one piece by piece.

It has also been suggested that changing the terminology is designed to break up some of the preconceived notions about what a living world chapter means. I think a lot of players still think of living world as being a few hours of story content and that’s it. And to be fair, in Season 2, that’s all many of the chapters were. But in the more recent seasons, each chapter and map brings so much more content than that, not to mention the smaller “current events” releases between seasons that get ignored altogether by many players. Bringing all of these things under the saga umbrella and (perhaps more importantly) releasing them piecemeal rather than all in one big release will allow the devs to shed light on content that many players may have otherwise overlooked.

I also think it’s significant that ArenaNet has four content teams working on the game. Cynics might question the size of these teams, but I still think it signals that ArenaNet is doubling down on Guild Wars 2 and that we will see not just more frequent content but also a wider variety of types of content coming to the game.

Now let’s break down that trailer a bit. It’s a teaser/announcement trailer, so of course there isn’t going to be a ton that’s spelled out. But there are actually a lot of teases that I didn’t pick up on the first time through. For instance, Jormag – who is apparently a non-binary dragon with a female voice actor – narrates the trailer, offering the audience the chance to join and be granted Jormag’s strength against our enemies (the “pitch” as Nardin put it). The first time through, I assumed that Jormag was speaking to the commander, but then I saw some player speculation that perhaps the dragon was actually speaking to the newly ascended Aurene. It also seems implied that there is another threat looming that Jormag offers to protect us from. What could that unstated threat be?

For a trailer about an ice dragon, there was an awful lot of fire (and one very charred Charr… too soon?). Players have noted that the logo for this saga is not just an icy blue, but it fades into a fiery red. Could this signal a conflict between Jormag and Primodus? Or perhaps an alliance between Jormag the Flame Legion? There is also what appears to be a Norn ship that’s been destroyed, with Norn corpses sinking into the depths. Could this be a hint at the rise of the unknown ocean dragon? This would certainly fit with the Lovecraftian themes the developers mentioned later in the presentation.

Centaurs enslaving humans seem a bit out of place with the rest of the trailer. What does this have to do with Norn or Charr or the Icebrood? Perhaps these particular centaurs are allied with the Flame Legion against their mutual human enemy, and these slaves are prisoners of war? Only time will tell.

In the final scene, we see a small army of icebrood Norn and Charr marching on Hoelbrak. This is the first time we’ve seen icebrood Charr, and some players are speculating that this may mean that some Charr, maybe the Flame Legion, might be joining the Sons of Svanir and becoming icebrood willingly. This would be a natural explanation for how this saga could be about both the Norn and the Charr.

Another interesting thing to note from this scene is the three heroes taking vanguard position against the advancing Icebrood: Rytlock, Braham, and a blonde female Norn. I’ve seen in a few different places online that this character is Jhavi Jorasdottir, a Norn NPC, currently found in the Vigil headquarters, who is descended from Jora. Long time fans will remember Jora as a main character from the original Guild Wars’ Eye of the North expansion and the sister of Jormag’s champion, Svanir. I haven’t found official ArenaNet confirmation of this anywhere yet, but she certainly looks the part, and it would make a lot of sense.

Are these the same person? It seems likely!

Another major announcement that came after the trailer was the addition of the new strike missions. Team lead Clayton Kisko describes strike missions as “introductory raid content, but without a lot of the stress.” His description of strike missions sounds a lot like world bosses, but instanced and restricted to 10 players, which means players won’t be able to simply zerg their way to victory, and will actually have to deal with raid-like mechanics. I think this is a great idea. This kind of low-pressure, low-commitment group content is what this game was built upon, and I hope the team gets back to that rather than focusing exclusively on raids.

I was also happy to see that ArenaNet is giving away Heart of Thorns to anyone who owns Path of Fire. This is great, not only because giving players additional content builds goodwill and gets them logging into the game more, but also because it allows the designers to utilize more of the masteries from the Heart of Thorns era outside of the Maguma Jungle, as everyone who has access to the new saga will also have access to Heart of Thorns. I was glad to see several of these masteries return in the Dragonfall map from the Season 4 finale, and I was even more excited that Anet confirmed that many of them would be returning for The Icebrood Saga.

What we didn’t see

In announcement events like these, sometimes what wasn’t mentioned is more interesting than what was. Telling us what’s coming in this saga is great, but I think that ArenaNet really needed to go farther in talking about the future of the game. Yes, it gave us a hard date for the upcoming prologue, but it didn’t even give a ballpark estimate for any of the actual chapters, or what kind of release cadence we can expect. Are build templates and other announced features coming with the prologue? With chapter one? Will story chapters and quality of life updates be coupled like they have been in the past, or will they alternate? Communication has never been ArenaNet’s strong suit, but lately it has been losing player confidence, and now is the time to communicate as clearly and as often as possible that this game has a long, bright future ahead of it.

ArenaNet really needed to address the elephant in the room: expansions. It hasn’t talked about another expansion since the release of Path of Fire, and that has many players worried. Expansions are a great thing for players to rally around, and for the studio to build hype and excitement around. They bring in a major cash infusion as well as an influx of returning players. It also makes your game look healthy; the average MMO player may not understand what a new Living World chapter means for a game, but an expansion is instantly recognizable to anyone remotely familiar with the genre as a major event.

Does the fact that there was no mention of an expansion at this event mean we’re never getting another? Certainly not. This was billed as a Living World announcement, so there could easily be an expansion in the works that ArenaNet isn’t ready to talk about just yet. But if so, it really should have at least hinted at that possibility. A lot of players are taking this silence on the subject to mean that there is no expansion in the works, that after the layoffs it suffered at the beginning of the year, ArenaNet simply doesn’t have the resources to produce something on that scale. If that is the case, it really should have bitten the bullet and come out and explained that sagas are going to take the place of expansions, and hype up their scope. Simply leaving everything to players’ imaginations only creates more anxiety.

I saw a lot of disappointment surrounding the event. Not so much that players hated what was announced, more along the lines of, “Oh, that was it?” I both understand this mentality and I don’t. On the one hand, I think some of the information given was a little thin, and a decent chunk of the time was taken up with a commercial for upcoming merchandise. On the other hand, a lot of fans had geared themselves up for an expansion announcement or its equivalent, since that’s what usually comes from these events. But ArenaNet delivered exactly what it said it would — a Living World announcement — and nothing more, and it shouldn’t be faulted for that.

If you’d like more speculation about the The Icebrood Saga presentation, WoodenPotatoes did a couple of great, insightful videos with his thoughts about the whole thing. I don’t agree with every word he says, but he really got me thinking about some possibilities for the future. I’m really excited to see everything this new saga brings, from new stories, to new group content. September 17th can’t come fast enough!

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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Anton Mochalin

I don’t see how this is a problem with communication on ArenaNet’s side. They’ve announced:
– Several things we can be sure of (at least 3 new story episodes, build templates etc)
– That there could be more (some vague mentions) – as this is not clear let’s think about them as nonexistent
They haven’t announced:
– Some things people expected (new expansion)
– A lot of things no one cares about.
Let’s think of things they haven’t announced as nonexistent too (for now).

So we’ve got some information about the changes in the game that are coming soon and the changes in the game that aren’t coming soon i.e. basically we know quite well what the game is going to be in next several months. If someone left the game till the next expansion has enough info to not install the game back again. If someone plays the game for the story he knows that the story is coming. If someone plays the game for other things he knows the game is going to stay more or less the same for the next several months. Maybe it’s not enough for him so he’ll leave based on that information. Maybe that’s OK for him so he’ll stay based on that information. So what’s the problem with communication?

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Greaterdivinity

Several things – most of which we knew about. We knew a new season was coming, and this didn’t elaborate too much on specifics. We’ve known that build templates etc. were coming, this is just reminding us that…they’re still coming.

More – more what? Another LS season? Another expansion? What kind of “more” is there?

Most folks weren’t expecting an expansion announcement, but we were expecting more expansion-worthy features as that’s what Anet said would be coming with the update. I get that they may not be ready to confirm another expansion, but if there’s one in the works now would have been a perfect time to let that cat out of the bag so the community isn’t left guessing about the future.

Things nobody cares about? Like what? If they’re asking about it, then surely they must care about it.

Right now, I wouldn’t want to be a serious/hardcore player who makes GW2 my primary MMO. As a side-MMO, it’s great because I know I’ll have plenty of time to spend in other games while waiting on content to come out. But that’s not what Anet probably wants, they don’t want players treating their only source of revenue as a “side game”, they want it to be a main game that people consistently play and spend on.

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Anton Mochalin

I think the prevalent pattern for most people playing MMOs is periods with a lot of activity, much in-game time per day with periods of relative inactivity (logging in to do dailies) in between. I don’t think a lot of people play even the most hardcore game in the world for 6 hours a day for even a month. So for most players GW2 is more about catching up with content than waiting for content. ArenaNet knows that very well and everything they did for the last 2 years shows they’re totally OK with that. There are definitely players who are too “serious” for GW2 but there aren’t a lot of them. Crafting a piece of ascended armor is probably a big undertaking for 50% of players.

ArenaNet announced those 10-man open world encounters (which is a totally new type of content for the game – who knows maybe it will get as big as fractals with time). It told us what the next story ark is about. The message is “the game is still regularly updated and we are serious enough about the game to rent a venue for an announcement” which is totally enough for the majority of the playerbase which is trying to catch up with content. And which generally doesn’t read GW2 subreddit or MOP. They have a couple of hours a day to play a game and maybe read the wiki for it sometimes. GW2 is ideal for such people, they see so much ahead of them and all that content is generally of high enough quality.

Godnaz
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Godnaz

This game has always been about managing expectations. Sometimes they exceed it, other times you have to scratch your head at the choice of priorities and direction being made.

One thing is clear for me.

Communication is generally poor and the companies biggest downfall, especially when addressing concerns. It comes off has though ArenaNet has something to hide and as noted by Bree, my feeling is those who would be responsible for those duties in addressing the public are being held back by company president, Mike O’Brien.

Trading present monetary gain for your company and publisher in exchange for future reputation can lead to business sabotage. They have a management style that does not endouse customer confidence. If Guildwars 3 is ever announced, I would likely not be a customer at launch.

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Schmidt.Capela

For a trailer about an ice dragon, there was an awful lot of fire

A Saga of Ice and Fire?

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Greaterdivinity

“It’s bigger than a season. It’s a saga!”

Agreed. As a writer of some of this PR fluff, I can understand the position they may have been in for this but…it’s still disappointing as a fan. I know I’m curious as to what these details include, but I guess I’ll just wait like everyone else. Not the triumphant showing that many of us hoped for : /

I also think it’s significant that ArenaNet has four content teams working on the game. Cynics might question the size of these teams, but I still think it signals that ArenaNet is doubling down on Guild Wars 2 and that we will see not just more frequent content but also a wider variety of types of content coming to the game.

/raises hand as a cynic

How big are these content teams? Are they all working on all similar types of content, or are they on different tracks (one on sPvP, one on open world, one on fractals/raids, one on “new” stuff)? What should players expect from them in terms of major/minor patches? How will these patches change compared to the previous cadence, specifically?

I’m glad to read this, but without a lot more information we don’t really have much to go on. And I think people are a bit skeptical of Anet’s promises, especially in light of how badly they missed the mark with this event.

For a trailer about an ice dragon

I still need to deep dive through everything, but I’m pretty sad we’re still fucking about with dragons. Was really hoping to get away from that subject as the core conflict for plot progression and that we’d see more about the relationship between the races without the imminent threat of a world-ending dragon. But alas, we’re still on the dragon train : /

addition of the new strike missions.

Most exciting bit for me. I really hope they can pump out this content and that it’s worth doing (both in terms of fun and rewards). I hope it doesn’t mean that they won’t be working on new raids (even if I’ll never run them), but it was new features like this that players were hoping for, even if this isn’t necessarily breaking any molds.

ArenaNet really needed to go farther in talking about the future of the game.

Good lord this. For all the hype and expense they went to, they said vanishingly little about what’s actually coming ahead.

To make a bad, controversial analogy, this was functionally their Anthem roadmap…just even more vague than Anthem’s was. I’d have loved to see them confirm work on another expansion or announce an upcoming detailed roadmap, but I guess we can just go out and buy some sweet GW2 merch at Hot Topic because that’s where the cool kids shop.

IMO – had the big layoffs not happened earlier this year and had they not overhyped the hell outta this event, it would have been fine as-is.

But with the big layoffs, they really needed to come out swinging and bust-ass to reassure players that the train is still on the rails moving ahead at full steam…and they didn’t. And they shot themselves in the foot overhyping this event to hell and delivering what would normally be pretty fine, but was nowhere near as exciting, grand, or detailed as the expectations they built up for players.

I can’t fault them specifically for all the content of the event (though I will for the utter lack of details and failure to talk about the longer term future for the game), but I’ll absolutely fault them for the way they hyped up the event that led to player disappointment. That was in their control, they just didn’t bother to actually use that control.

Oh well, I’ll still keep it around as a side-game to tinker around in periodically which is fine for me but not great for Anet. They need to convert more folks like me who play infrequently and spend even less frequently nowadays into regular players and spenders.

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Dave

How big are these content teams?

I think the size of the team isn’t really what matters. Where I’m at we’ve been breaking up our development teams in to smaller and smaller teams with more focus on 1-2 subfeatures of our larger products. Our two development teams have recently been broken into 4 teams of ~3-4 devs with more laser focus on what they are working on. This works far better than having larger teams with more breadth of what they are responsible for.

I still need to deep dive through everything, but I’m pretty sad we’re still fucking about with dragons. Was really hoping to get away from that subject as the core conflict for plot progression and that we’d see more about the relationship between the races without the imminent threat of a world-ending dragon. But alas, we’re still on the dragon train : /

Mike O’Brien at ArenaNet addressed this a couple years ago and stated (more or less) that GW2 is about the Dragons. He seemed to imply that GW2’s story would be over when the Dragons’ stories are over. Granted anything can change.

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Greaterdivinity

On the fist bit – that’s kinda the point. We don’t know anything about them. Are these 4 teams of 3-4 people? Are they working on a patch themselves, or just a part of a patch with other teams contributing as well? We have no idea, and without Anet shedding more light on it we’re left to speculate in the dark about what this means for upcoming content in terms of size/scope and the pace of delivery.

On the second bit…that’s disappointing to me. IMO the dragons, at least at this point for me, aren’t super interesting anymore. It’s mostly a repeat of, “Another dragon wants to destroy the world, stop them!” which we’ve down now….3 times already. I’m far more interested in the rest of the world and would love to see it explored in more depth. They built up interesting racial dynamics that were papered over for the sake of unity against the dragons, but I feel like there’s a ton of meat on those bones that they’re leaving to rot : /

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Dave

On the fist bit – that’s kinda the point. We don’t know anything about them. Are these 4 teams of 3-4 people? Are they working on a patch themselves, or just a part of a patch with other teams contributing as well? We have no idea, and without Anet shedding more light on it we’re left to speculate in the dark about what this means for upcoming content in terms of size/scope and the pace of delivery.

I should probably also note that in every company I’ve worked for in the last 10 years, our customers don’t get to know what each of our dev teams do and what those teams focus on. The fact that ANet told us how many teams they have is kind of unusual (compared to what I’m used to).

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Greaterdivinity

If everything was hunky dory, I’d agree. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think players are entitled to this kind of information.

But given the concerns of the community, especially with the earlier layoffs, folks are understandably concerned about the future. This was a great opportunity for ArenaNet to be more open and transparent about this kind of stuff to really hammer home to players that everything is fine and that they’re well positioned to support this game strongly moving forward.

Sure, this is a bit of hindsight as well, but if they’re telling us that they have 4 teams working on content they’re de-facto setting pretty high expectations for players (“the game has never had that many teams, this must mean much more content!”). It’s on them to effectively manage those expectations, and the lack of meaningful context around the number of teams they have working on content doesn’t help. If they weren’t willing to dive into more detail, they should have kept the number of teams out of the presentation as well.

I mean, the whole negative reaction to this event was purely because Anet did a terrible job of managing expectations from the community and directly caused the massive overhyping that left a lot of the community disappointed.

rahkeesh
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rahkeesh

I think we’re getting a little taste of questions about unity with the blood legion now. But they can’t really go too far because faction-based PvP is the logical conclusion for a world without dragons or something even more threatening, and that isn’t something they can adjust GW2 for at this point.

I’m also resigned to this game having 2-3 more seasons at best of ongoing content, so they might as well tie up the loose Dragon ends rather than striking out in some wild new direction.

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Nathan Aldana

I dunno. if theyre calling streikes “introductory raid content” that says to me “going forward raids are our concentration point and we’ve bought in to the idea that everyone will willingly become raiders if we entice them into it”

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Greaterdivinity

I view it as the reverse – “Raid are a good idea, but don’t serve a wide enough segment of our players right now. Let’s open up the concept to make it more approachable to open world players in a more casual setting that better fits much of the content in our game.”

That they’re seeing that the RoI on raids is decreasing, but that they can produce similar, new content that will have broader appeal with lower investment required.

And I’m alright with that, personally, because raids aren’t super appealing to me. I just hope it means they won’t totally ditch raids in the meantime.

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

That’s a very generous take on what was a self-inflicted PR disaster. They had enough material for a regular LS blog post and they hyped it up to the nth degree, with a live launch in a theater at a convention and a count-down on the website. They did indeed make it clear that the announcement was going to be about the Living Story but to make such a song and dance about something so minimal was ludicrous.

As for the future, I think your reading is highly over-optimistic. It sounds far more as though they no longer even have the resources to produce what they had been doing for LS3 and 4 and are slipping back to a lower level of production. Calling it a “Saga” and incorporating the kind of between-episodes content we were already getting is a disingenuous attempt to sell old cloth as new.

Of the other things they mentioned, build templates were trailed back in April and the WvW revamp is now about 18 months into what looks likely to be a two year process. I don;t follow sPvP but I believe they’ve been trailing Swiss Tournaments for a long time, too. About the only genuine new idea was the 10 man casual raid thing.

GW2 isn’t in maintenance mode, yet but it is in a holding pattern, slowly drifting downwards. Nothing in the presentation suggests that’s likely to change any time soon.

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Michram142

Hey!

1) Centaurs and human story will likely be used to give more spotlight to Kasmeer and Marjory and let us know more about how they are holding up, since we haven’t seen them since Path of Fire finished in the Epilogue of Path of Fire.

2) Braham, not Bram.

3) Jormag was active for a short period of time during Season 3, those charr could have been corrupted then, it doesn’t necessary mean the charr of Flame Legion could just become some mindless servants.

4) I think Jormag speaks to both Aurene and the Commander. First part is adressed to Aurene, but when Jormag indicates “Commander”, he/she wishes to offer something to the player character himself. It’s the first time ever an Elder dragon actually treats someone like equal force, we are not just ants that don’t matter, we are equally powerful, or maybe even Aurene is just now a superior dragon, and now Jormag realized he/she wants to cooparate – Jormag’s greatest enemy is Primordus, but it’s like he/she needs to have an approval to act, and offers himself/herself for that cause, and maybe Jormag will want to prove that won’t betray us?

Jormag is now really anxious, Aurene controls a lot of magics and death itself, no wonder he/she crawls himself/ herself towards Aurene and the Commander (+Aurene’s another champion – Caithe).

I think with Norn and Charr now on the spotlight, it won’t be easy – no, those races were born to wage wars, Asura will understand that a treaty with an Elder Dragon may be interesting, because they use intelligence, Human will not want to wage wars, because even the sound of fighting with Charr would stir people of Kryta, Jennah would stand with the Commander, Sylvari would follow Caithe, because Caithe shows that unity is the way.

I think what Jormag offers is not cool in its entirety, in contrary, I think she/he will betray us at some point, but as long as Primordus is sleeping (presumably), because Jormag has a big influence now, and likely keeps Primordus in sleep for now, maybe if we won’t accept Jormag’s “help”/help, Jormag will just let awake the Dragon, the fight Fire vs Ice will rage on, and it will destroy the All totally with no chance to save Tyria, and not even Aurene will be able to save us, because if those two forces destroy themselves, Tyria will be destroyed – as the cinematic from Flashpoint showed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYY-41xUZLk

It’s also very interesting that the Commander IS NOT showed in the trailer, they have shown us the represenation of the Commander throughout Season 4 (starting with Path of Fire’s trailers), and now instead of the Commander we see Rytlock and Braham and some random forgotten norn?

Where is the Commander in all of that? Will actually Jormag attack Hoelbrak, or he comes to make an agreement?

I don’t care about the stuff we didn’t get, because it seems like they have this Saga to keep us busy, but people just wanted something to look forward to beyond few months, but at least an year (something like last year we found out that Season 5 was coming (since August 2018)), now people expected the same, but we didn’t.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

i thought they knocked it out of the park, but then again i’ve been away from the game since a month after PoF launch and i skipped HoT entirely.

the community was downright deplorable. full stop.

arenanet is really crappy about communicating. full stop.

arenanet can only control itself so they are the ones who have to find a way to listen and speak to the community in a better way.

the community can only control itself and needs to find a way to ditch the venom and deplorable behavior.