Any expansion announcement for any MMO is always a cause for excitement, but it’s been four years since Guild Wars 2 shipped a new expansion, so the announcement of End of Dragons is especially worth celebrating. Can you believe that more time will have passed between the launch of Path of Fire and the launch of End of Dragons than between the original launch of the game and that of Heart of Thorns?ArenaNet has released just two Guild Wars 2 expansions to date, so we don’t have as much of a track record for this game when it comes to what makes for a good expansion as we would for, say, Everquest or World of Warcraft, or even more contemporary games like The Elder Scrolls Online, but I think ArenaNet can (and should) take a look back at Guild Wars 2’s last two expansions and learn a lot from what it did right and what it did wrong with these past releases.
Don’t go radio silent
I’m putting this first because it is so very important. The worst thing a studio can do is announce that they are working on a title, and then stop talking about it for a long time. I know it’s hard to tip-toe around spoilers and work-in-progress designs that may change, but new and exciting information is the fuel that keeps the hype train rolling. Cut off the supply, and the train will grind to a halt, and it will be very difficult to get moving again.
This is kind of what happened with Path of Fire. There was very little information shared about the elite specs, masteries, the setting, or even the release date of the expansion until about a month before release, much to the frustration and confusion of the fanbase. In fact, many players believe that this lack of communication from ArenaNet was the motivation for the 2017 leaks. In ArenaNet’s defense, it has been doing much better at keeping players up to speed in recent months, with quarterly updates giving a rough roadmap of content coming over the next few months. So while it’s a little concerning that we haven’t heard anything from ArenaNet about the expansion since its initial announcement and teaser trailer, I hold some hope that, once the Icebrood Saga is over, it will handle communications for End of Dragons better.
…but also don’t string us along for too long
If the lead up to Path of Fire was a drought of information, Heart of Thorns was a long, soaking drizzle (that analogy is actually appropriate given those expansions’ respective settings, come to think of it). The information on Guild Wars 2’s first expansion seemed to just keep dripping out one little bit at a time, with blog posts on new elite specs and such coming out every couple of weeks over the course of six months. Normally, I eat up new information regarding upcoming content, and in the beginning, the Heart of Thorns lead up was no different. But at some point fatigue set in, and I was ready for it to just release already. This alternative is preferable to, and a lot less disconcerting than, a complete information drought, but it can be just as frustrating if it goes on too long.
Give us new ways to play the game
This is something that the previous two Guild Wars 2 expansions have, in my opinion, done excellently. Elite specs, obviously, shook up the way players play their classes; at the very least, elite specs synergized with existing class roles, but in some cases, they transformed a DPS class with some support utility into a full-blown healer, or made a class that was mainly relegated to PvP much more viable for PvE. Guild Wars 2 may never get to the level of class flexibility that its predecessor has, but elite specs are the next best thing to dual classing in terms of giving players agency over how they build their character.
Beyond elite specs, though, mount and gliding masteries have changed the way we move through the game world. They even changed the way we look at terrain. I think that’s the thing that separated expansion masteries from those that came with living world releases: They change the way we play the game day-to-day, not just while we’re in the zone or set of zones that gave them to us. Sure, some living world releases gave us more expansion-like masteries, such as the roller beetle and skyscale, but even those are simply iterations on masteries that expansions gave us.
Don’t assume your players are up on the Living World
One of my biggest pet peeves with the way Guild Wars 2 does its story is that it kind of assumes you’ve done it all in order from the very beginning, including Living World season 1, which can no longer be accessed. That’s great for players who have been there from day one, but, as I’ve argued before, it’s an unnecessary barrier to entry to new players. With no moving level cap, there really isn’t a reason for the storytelling to be this strictly linear. For example, in The Elder Scrolls Online, if you want, you can pick any DLC or expansion zone to quest through and you will get a cohesive story that doesn’t require any knowledge of the previous stories to enjoy. Sure, if you’ve played the base game or previous expansions and you know who Razum-Dar or Lyris Titanborn are, you may pick up on some story threads and callbacks a brand new player wouldn’t, but you will never feel like you’re starting out on Game of Thrones half way through the final season.
Compare that to Path of Fire, which opens in the middle of an attack from Balthazar’s Forged, leaving returning players to wonder “Wait, isn’t Balthazar one of the humans’ six gods? Aren’t they the good guys?” Asking those players to go back and play a whole season of Living World or more, and probably pay extra for it if they haven’t been logging in, before they play the expansion they just paid a premium price for, is a good way to lose customers. I’ve known people who quit after playing PoF for only a few hours for that very reason. If ArenaNet insists on making the expansion start with a story already in progress, a little optional exposition video would be a great way to catch new players up to speed on the story so far. It wouldn’t even have to feel forced, since someone has to catch the Canthan people up on what the rest of the world has been up to since they closed their borders, right?
Given the fact that The Icebrood Saga is almost over and we’ve had no mention of Cantha, nor does there seem to be much, if any, setup for new storylines, it’s entirely possible that this is the approach ArenaNet is planning to take for End of Dragons. I certainly hope so, because I would love to be able to tell my friends that the new expansion is a good jumping in point!
Limit how much progress is gated behind masteries
This is a lesson I think ArenaNet has already learned, but it bears repeating. When Heart of Thorns introduced the mastery system as an alternative means of character progression, it also locked some of the zone/story progress behind that grind. I get it, if there’s nothing to grind, many players will be tempted to blow through the content and then feel unsatisfied that they got through it so fast. But it was a grind. I still remember the moment I hit that wall in HoT where I had to get to tier four in Itzel Lore — a track that I had been ignoring up to that point because it was much less appealing than gliding — just to open a stupid door to progress the story. I immediately threw up my hands and logged out. Fortunately, a few days later ArenaNet softened this requirement due to player complaints.
In Path of Fire, the only masteries that are truly required are the first tier of a couple of the mounts, and the XP requirement for Path of Fire masteries is significantly lower. Also, I was much more motivated to progress the mount masteries because they provided an immediate, world-wide benefit, whereas many Heart of Thorns masteries applied only to a very specific situation in some obscure corners of Maguuma.
Roll out group content in a reasonable timeframe
Heart of Thorns introduced raids to Guild Wars 2, with the first unlocking just a month after the expansion’s launch, and the two wings of Forsaken Thicket followed with a gap of four months or so between them. However, while Path of Fire’s first raid released a couple of months after the expansion, the other two raids were each released around a year apart. A lot of raiders were frustrated that they had to wait so long between releases, questioning if the promised raids were ever even coming. Granted, PoF’s raids were interspersed with new fractals, whereas HoT essentially ignored that sector of the game, leaving fractal lovers who didn’t want to make the jump to raids to feel abandoned.
If you like both flavors of PvE content, maybe that didn’t matter as much to you, but if you’re primarily interested in just one of these types of content, that’s a lot of downtime between releases. My point here is, if you want to keep raiders happy, and if you want to keep fractalers happy, you need to give them something to do with some amount of frequency. Communication would go a long way here. Just let players know that you haven’t forgotten about them, along with a rough estimate of when they can expect the next batch of the content they’re anticipating.
Living World is not a replacement for a true expansion
I love the Living World. I love that there’s something new to do in this game on a regular basis, be that a new story, a new map to farm, or a festival. But there’s nothing like a big expansion to get people excited about a game. I see Living World as something for current, existing players to enjoy, but expansions bring back lapsed players and remind potential new players that the game still exists, and it’s still getting love. Changing the name from season to saga didn’t get those people’s attention, no matter your promised feature set. I don’t know what happened with all of the internal politics of ArenaNet and its parent company NCsoft, but I think the decision to forgo an expansion in favor of Icebrood Saga was one of the worst things for the momentum of this game.
In eight and a half years, we’ve seen ArenaNet make some good choices and some missteps when it comes to expansion rollouts. Whatever the future holds for End of Dragons, I’m hoping the launch goes smoothly, and pleasantly surprises us all. What are some things, good or bad, you’ve seen ArenaNet do that you wish you could bring to its attention? I’d love to read your thoughts down in the comments!