Flameseeker Chronicles: Guild Wars 2’s 2020 year in review

    
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2019 was a rough year for Guild Wars 2. Its studio, ArenaNet, suffered sizable layoffs, and lost game directors Mike O’Brien and Mike Zadorojny. I was a little worried, but cautiously hopeful, for the future of the game last year. Well, it turned out 2020 was a terrible year for everyone, but all things considered, I think ArenaNet fared all right. Sure, there were more layoffs, but on a much smaller scale and reportedly not for GW2 itself, and new content churned out pretty smoothly all things considered. There were no big surprise releases, but no big catastrophes either, which I would call a win. Let’s take a look back at Guild Wars 2’s 2020.

The Icebrood Saga

The Icebrood Saga may have kicked off in 2019, with the prologue and first episode disappointing many fans with their thin content in the final quarter, but the saga dominated all of 2020, and it isn’t finished yet. In fact, it’s hard to separate Guild Wars 2’s year-in-review from a retrospective of The Icebrood Saga because, let’s be honest, that’s more or less all we got. Not that I’m complaining; it has been a pretty compelling ride so far.

While subsequent releases weren’t much more meaty than those that we got in 2019, the folks at ArenaNet have done a great job of keeping us busy with a renewed focus on repeatable content. From the meta events in north and south Drizzlewood Coast, to a variety of strike missions, to the recently added dragon response missions (and the promise of more to come), The Icebrood Saga suffers much less from the “now what” feeling I was often left with after finishing the stories of past Living World episodes. Sure, strike and dragon response missions aren’t my favorite content, but that’s more down to personal preference and not a lack of things to do.

And while the story instances were noticeably shorter and smaller in size, the story itself has not suffered, keeping me enthralled and looking forward to finding out what happens next throughout the year. From the Prologue’s introduction of Bangar Ruinbringer and his renegade Charr Dominion, to the spooky whispers of Bjora Marches and the defeat of Jormag’s champion Drakkar, to the all-out war between the Charr to Ryland Steelcatcher’s ultimate betrayal of Bangar to join with Jormag, a lot has happened over the past year. And what’s up with Braham’s apparent new connection with Primordus? And are we ever going to address the fact that everyone keeps talking about killing Primordus and/or Jormag, when we decided last time that we can’t kill another elder dragon (without replacing it) or risk horrible, world-ending consequences? I’m looking forward to next year to find out the answers to these questions and more!

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic had far-reaching consequences in all areas of life, and Tyria was not immune to its impact. ArenaNet switched to work-from-home early on in the pandemic, and I applaud the employees for keeping up seamlessly with their planned release schedule despite the unusual circumstances. Unfortunately, voice acting proved more difficult to get into the game in a manner that would keep everyone safe, so both episodes 3 and 4 initially launched without voiceover. It was strange, playing without this vital storytelling element, but worth it to keep all involved in the recording process safe; no one should have to put their livelihood, health, or life in jeopardy for a video game. Fortunately, ArenaNet managed to work things out, and the Truce update added the missing voiceover, so be sure to go back and play it again if you haven’t already!

We were told, way back at that initial PAX East announcement for the Icebrood Saga, that ArenaNet would be using this Saga as an opportunity to experiment with new ideas, and we definitely saw some of those this year. For one, the aforementioned strike missions added a raid-like experience without the time commitment. Dragon response missions blurred the lines between a living world story instance and a fractal. Then there’s the Forging Steel instance, which shares some qualities of both and doesn’t really fit in either place.

I know some players felt that adding in new maps a half a zone at a time was lazy (according to what I’ve heard from ArenaNet’s devs, it was actually a bit of a feat of engineering to stitch together two half maps that were developed separately in a way that doesn’t break anything), but personally I kind of liked it. It was nice to break the pattern of moving on and forgetting about each previous zone as soon as the next episode dropped, while still giving us something new to explore every other month.

While the masteries that came with Icebrood Saga were generally pretty underwhelming, the United Legions waystation and its upgrades gave us new options for dealing with open world fights. The skimmer mount was also granted the ability to skim underwater as well as over it, an update which seemed to come out of nowhere, but was not unwelcome.

You may not have personally enjoyed all of the new things ArenaNet did this year, but, again, you can’t really make a case that it didn’t deliver on the promise of trying new things.

Sunqua Peak fractal

While ArenaNet was busy with Icebrood Saga and everything it entailed, it also found time to bring us a new fractal, Sunqua Peak. While fractals have been fewer and farther between than many players would like, I thought this was one of the more fun instances in recent memory. This beautiful fractal was also a great tease of things to come. Speaking of which…

End of Dragons reveal

Last but certainly not least, in a special stream celebrating the eighth anniversary of Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet revealed the teaser trailer for the game’s third expansion, titled End of Dragons. This expansion will take us to the Asian-inspired land of Cantha, the setting of the Factions campaign of the original Guild Wars. We were given only vague hints about the story in this trailer, but we do know that the expansion is slated to come out some time next year.

A few pieces of concept art have showed up in the months since, but ArenaNet is making us wait for more specific details. However, and maybe it’s just me, I feel that just the promise that a new expansion is finally coming after more than three years has breathed new life into Guild Wars 2. I feel like I see a lot more players around, and I hear a lot less doom and gloom around Lion’s Arch. That’s totally subjective, so feel free to disagree with me, but the game’s financials seem to support this feeling.

Things we still haven’t seen

It’s important to note that there are still a number of things that we were promised for future updates that have yet to see the light of day. First is WvW world restructuring, which will have been promised three years ago this January. WvW fans are understandably upset that they have yet to receive any word on this beyond repeated assurances that it is coming. Hopefully 2021 will finally give this neglected sector of the game some much needed love.

Over on the PvE side of things is the promised legendary armory, which was advertised alongside build templates as a way to share legendary gear across multiple characters. While build templates went in at the end of last year, the legendary armory will have been announced a year ago in March, and if I had to guess, I’m thinking at this point that it will be touted as an expansion feature, possibly alongside some new legendary armor or weapons.

The future

Overall, I feel a lot better about the state and future of Guild Wars 2 right now than this time last year. For better or worse, ArenaNet did a lot of experimentation in 2020. I’ve seen wild speculation, from the doomsayers claiming that ArenaNet is struggling to work with a smaller team in a last-ditch effort to save the studio from oblivion, to optimists speculating that Icebrood Saga is being used as a testbed for new ideas for an upcoming Guild Wars 3. Regardless of if either of these are true or something in between, I had a lot of fun in Guild Wars 2 this year, and I’m really excited to see what new and interesting things 2021, the finale of the Icebrood Saga, and End of Dragons have in store for us!

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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