It’s no secret that 2019 was a rough year for Guild Wars 2. There were some bright spots in there as well, however, and I don’t want those to be overshadowed. A lot has happened this year, and today I want to focus what happened in the first half of the year.
As I’m sure Guild Wars 2 fans don’t need to be reminded, ArenaNet started off this year with mass layoffs, and it feels like these really dominated the conversation this whole year. I’m sick of bringing them up and I’m sure you’re sick of reading about them, but they have colored every Guild Wars 2-related story since then. Instead of simply asking “What will the next living world season look like?” fans were asking “What will the next living world season look like given the recent layoffs?” Instead of asking “When will the next expansion be?” fans have started asking “Will we ever get another expansion?” ArenaNet lost a large number of people, but even worse, some of those lost were the people who have been with the company the longest, who made the Guild Wars franchise what it is today.
When the layoffs hit, we learned that at least two projects, one a mobile or console game, the other a potential sequel to Guild Wars 2, had been shelved due to the cuts. While I’ve argued that now may not be the right time to begin working on Guild Wars 3, it really is unfortunate that these projects will never see the light of day.
The game is still feeling the effects of these layoffs, and I don’t think that’s going to change in 2020. They have bounced back a little bit — content keeps coming, and we noted recently that ArenaNet is hiring for a new artist, which doesn’t seem like the kind of thing a company does when it’s planning on sunsetting its game in the near future — but I still think that the negative impact of these layoffs can be felt in every area of the game.
Also early this year, Guild Wars 2 introduced its World vs. World-centric mount, the Warclaw. This giant kitty cat has been divisive, to be sure, as it gave a sizable advantage to players who buy the Path of Fire expansion, behind which the Warclaw is gated, but it gave WvW players something new to work toward, and opened up some interesting new strategies.
Sadly, that’s about all the love that WvW has gotten this year. SPvP hasn’t fared much better, with only a few ruleset variations to speak of. There were a few PvP balance tweaks, but not as many as those players would have liked to have seen. ArenaNet had already de-emphasized PvP before the aforementioned layoffs, and after they happened, it fell even more by the wayside.
Living World Season 4, which had been going on since November of 2017, finally came to its epic conclusion with War Eternal. We put another elder dragon notch in our belt, slaying Kralkatorik, replacing him with the benevolent Aurene.
More than just the wonderful storytelling War Eternal gave us, I continue to really enjoy the Dragonfall map. I have spent a lot of time there, and not just farming resources for my skyscale. It’s a really fun group experience that feels a lot more accessible than its predecessor from Heart of Thorns, Dragon’s Stand. A solo player or small group can actually make decent progress in Dragonfall even if nobody else shows up, whereas Dragon’s Stand required a lot of people who knew what they were doing, or it would fail.
Speaking of the skyscale, can we talk about that unlock process for a minute? It was one of the worst grinds I’ve ever completed in any MMO. It’s so much more work than the griffon. The constant revisiting of maps to visit obscure little corners for the clicky found there, the absurd amount of map currency collection… I did it, but I can’t honestly say it’s worth it. Yes, the skyscale is convenient in certain circumstances, but there aren’t many places the skyscale will get you to that some combination of the griffon and springer won’t.
Crafters saw a boon this year, with the addition of gourmet cooking and legendary sigils. Gourmet cooking adds new master and grandmaster cooking recipes to cooks’ repertoire. Not content to simply buy recipes from a vendor like other high level crafting professions, chefs must travel to far-flung corners of Tyria to learn from the greatest chefs of the five playable races and demonstrate their prowess. If you have 425 cooking, it’s a good idea to do at least part of the collection even if you aren’t interested in finishing it, as you can unlock a garden plot and cooking station for your personal home instance, as well as cause additional cooking-related items to start dropping in the world. Naysayers call it busywork, but I thought it was a cool idea, and makes high level cooking feel more special.
Sigils also got an upgrade, allowing all sigils to be salvaged into motes, and the legendary sigil was added, craftable in the Mystic Forge. Like other legendary items, legendary sigils have the same stats as their ascended version, but with the added bonus that they can change their stats to any available stat combination at will after being equipped.
After last year’s return of The Festival of the Four Winds, it was great to see the Dragon Bash also make a comeback. It was always a shame that all of the content for these retired festivals was just lying around, gathering dust, so it was nice to see them return, updated, with new rewards and new things to do. It’s a small thing, but festivals are always a fun reason to log in.
If I were to sum up the first half of 2019, I think I would describe it as a waiting period. Apart from these highlights and lowlights, we spent a lot of the first half of 2019 just… waiting. ArenaNet had promised that the living world would continue after season 4, but after the layoff announcement, we weren’t really sure what, if anything, that would be. The silence from ArenaNet was frustrating, but I’m sure that it was even more difficult internally, dealing with the loss of institutional knowledge, reorganizing, and figuring out what next steps were realistically possible.
In the second part of this two-part column later this month, I’ll talk about the Icebrood Saga announcement and its opening episodes, some of the other events in and around the game, as well as some of the things we didn’t see in 2019, plus what I would like to see in 2020.