Last week, we got a tsunami of good news from Guild Wars 2 studio ArenaNet. Studio directors Colin Johanson and John “JT” Taylor, along with executive producer Amy Liu and game director Josh “Grouch” Davis, penned a letter letting players know what is coming for Guild Wars 2. And let me tell you, it is packed with information on upcoming stuff!Flameseeker Chronicles, let’s dive in and pick apart what we learned from this producer’s letter! I would like to point out that there are a few mild spoilers for the End of Dragons story in here, so tread carefully if you haven’t finished that.
Let’s tackle the big announcements first. I don’t think anyone is terribly surprised by the announcement of a new Living World season, but it is exciting nonetheless. End of Dragons has proven quite popular (more popular, according to this letter, than the previous Path of Fire expansion) and it simply wouldn’t make sense to stop the Cantha hype train now. It only takes a quick glance at the map to see that there is much left to explore of Cantha. In terms of locations from the original Guild Wars, there is much of the Jade Sea left to explore (perhaps with an eye toward solving Cantha’s impending energy crisis?), and both games’ maps show land masses to the east and north of the Jade Sea that has never been explored in-game, not to mention the fact that both games cut off the bottom part of the Canthan landmass.
I’m also really excited to see that Living World Season 1 content is finally coming back! This has been a real source of frustration for me for years now. Almost the entire main cast of the game – Taimi, Braham, Canach, even Mai Trin and the Aetherblades, who featured heavily in the most recent expansion – were all introduced in season 1, and it is no longer accessible to players. If you are a new player and want to see all of the story, as it stands right now, they all just materialize into the world as your new best friends starting in Season 2. It’s like watching the Star Wars movies without A New Hope; you could figure out most of what happened from context, but it wouldn’t be as enjoyable, and you would be constantly playing catch up.
Season 1 content is, of course, difficult to put back into the game, as the original pitch for Living World was that it would forever alter existing zones, rather than add new ones, as became the standard later on. ArenaNet has made half-hearted attempts to bring this content back into the game before – from Visions of the Past adding a handful of rather lackluster instances (disappointingly devoid of context), to the more recent return of the Twisted Marionette boss – but this sounds much more substantial. The idea of a Battle for Lion’s Arch strike mission is especially exciting to me, as that has always stood out as the highlight of season 1 in my mind. I’m interested to hear more about how it will be implemented!
Last but certainly not least, we’re getting another expansion! They really sneaked that tease in at the end, didn’t they? This was the biggest question mark I had about the game’s future, and I’m so glad Johanson and Taylor actually confirmed this in this letter.
A lot of players saw “End” in the title of this expansion, and the wrap-up of a storyline that had been going since 2007’s Guild Wars Eye of the North, and assumed that this would be the end of Guild Wars 2. In those players’ defense, the story ending with the first credits roll since vanilla didn’t do anything to hurt this perception. If this letter had simply stopped at the Living World announcement, it would have been easy to assume that this would be one last hurrah for Cantha and Guild Wars 2‘s future would still be uncertain. Will there be more content after Season 6? Is the game headed for maintenance mode? Will there be a Guild Wars 3? But an expansion announcement tells me that ArenaNet and NCsoft have confidence in the longevity of this title and are planning to back it up.
What could this expansion be about? I could go on at length on that topic (and maybe I will!), but one thing is for sure: The Guild Wars 1 nostalgia well is looking pretty close to dry at this point, which is both bad and good. It’s bad because nostalgia sells. Remember how many players were excited for End of Dragons simply because of the Cantha setting, before we even know anything else about it? Future expansions won’t have that to lean on. It’s good, though, because someplace new means ArenaNet’s excellent designers and storytellers will have total freedom to create pretty much anything they can dream up. It sounds like this expansion is a ways off, so they have plenty of time to dream big.
Those are all of the big bombshells, but there are a number of smaller things in this letter that are equally deserving of a mention.
ArenaNet’s team structure has always been a bit confusing. It’s nice to get some clarification on who some of the major decision makers are (remember that time when we didn’t even know who the studio head was for several years?) and what they’re in charge of. In particular, I’m happy to see a woman in the role of Executive Producer. While ArenaNet has generally done a good job with minority and gender representation, the overall games industry can be a hostile place for female workers (as evidenced most recently by the whole Blizzard mess).
I’m happy to see that ArenaNet is doubling down on communication. This is something this studio has historically been bad at, but has recently begun to turn itself around in recent years. So much so, in fact, that we gave ArenaNet our award for best studio this past year, in large part due to improved comms. Keep up the good work!
The Steam release is still happening. This was something that was supposed to happen during Icebrood Saga, but was postponed in favor of putting all hands on deck on End of Dragons. This is one of those things that may seem like a footnote for existing players, but can have a real, positive impact on the overall health of the game. DirectX 11 will also be coming out of beta soon, and will hopefully have all of its rendering oddities worked out so we can all enjoy the improved performance it brings without NPCs randomly glowing green or having psychedelic textures splattered everywhere.
WvWers should be happy to hear that there is a renewed focus on that oft-neglected game mode, including the long-promised world restructuring and improved rewards. Class balance across all modes is also being prioritized, with more regular balance updates planned. Hopefully these will be less overcorrective than the recent devastating nerf to Catalyst.
I’m also glad to hear that ArenaNet is committing publicly to supporting work/life balance for its employees. If you’ve been watching the games industry for any length of time, you know that crunch culture is sadly pervasive. This is a problem because crunch is not just bad for individual developers – stress is a major contributor to innumerable physical and mental health issues – but ultimately bad for the games they produce as well. Overworked people have lower productivity, show less creativity, make more mistakes, and turn over faster than people who have reasonable workloads. It’s just not worth it to meet a deadline some manager pulled out of the air at random. I’m glad to see ArenaNet taking it seriously, on paper at least, and hopefully sincerely.
If there are any disappointments hiding in all this good news, it’s that it seems like season 6 is a ways off. It isn’t mentioned at all in the spring roadmap, and the only living world content that is mentioned are the first two episodes of season 1. We are told that season 1 will be condensed into five episodes, so if we only get one or two episodes a quarter, it should be the better part of a year before all of season 1 is in. Whether we’ll see season 6 episodes between those releases or if this is all we’re getting for the next six months is anyone’s guess, but my gut says we will have to wait on season 6. Again, season 1 content is going to take some effort to put back in, and I’m willing to wait for it to all be done properly. This puts the next expansion ever further out, which, again, is perfectly ok with me; we’ll have plenty to do in the meantime.
This producer’s letter was really encouraging for the future of the game, and exactly what we needed to keep the expansion momentum going. I think my favorite quote in this whole letter is this: “[W]e’re happy to say loudly and emphatically that Guild Wars 2 has a bright future ahead of it!” Given the high that End of Dragons has brought, and all of the exciting things in this letter, I definitely concur with that sentiment! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s a good time to be a Guild Wars 2 player!