Time sure flies when you’re slaying Elder Dragons, doesn’t it? Is it really possible that it has been a decade since our characters first set foot in locations like The Grove, Rata Sum, and The Black Citadel? I thought I would take this opportunity to reminisce about some of the highlights (and some lowlights) from Guild Wars 2’s past ten years.
Defeating Zhaitan for the first time
I’ll be honest, I didn’t beat Zhaitan for years after Guild Wars 2’s release. I was one of many players who were grumpy that the climax of the game’s personal story, which was completely soloable up to that point, was inside a five-player dungeon for some reason. Everyone said the fight wasn’t that fun anyway, so I just left Zhaitan undefeated for many years, until ArenaNet finally made the boss soloable in 2015.
All grousing aside, this was a particularly epic moment for early Guild Wars 2. It was the story of all of the races of Tyria coming together to defeat a threat no one thought possible. After all of the squabbling The Commander had put up with friction between members of Destiny’s Edge and the three orders; it was good to see everyone working together.
And it was all worth it to see Wozmack the Wonderful rematerialize after blipping out of existence in the early noble Human storyline, like a post-credits Easter egg.
The destruction of Lion’s Arch
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember a lot of parts of Season 1, partly because I wasn’t playing the game faithfully back then and missed it and partly because I didn’t care that much about its forgettable story, but it’s hard to forget the destruction of Lion’s Arch, the de facto capital of Tyria in Guild Wars 2. It was a surprise that it even happened in the first place, and it was made all the more memorable by the fact that it wasn’t just a stunt. The city didn’t just go back to the way it was after the live event was over; it sat in shambles for a while after, then took some time to rebuild.
Remember what an inconvenience it was, though? Many, but not all, of the city’s amenities were evacuated to the Vigil Keep in Gendarran Fields during the attack and subsequent reconstruction of LA. I thought they’d never put my crafting stations back in a reasonable spot. It was a cool trick once, but please, ArenaNet, don’t do it again!
Heart of Thorns changed everything
I think it’s safe to say that there has been no single bigger change to the way we play Guild Wars 2 than October 23rd, 2015, with the release of the Heart of Thorns expansion. Gliding changed the entire way we looked at traversing the game, and elite specs changed the way classes were played. Masteries gave us something to progress toward without invalidating gear or meaninglessly inflating the level cap. HoT established many design patterns still being followed and showed us what we could expect from a Guild Wars 2 expansion.
This expansion also brought us raids. While raiding certainly continues to be a thing in the Guild Wars 2 community, it never caught on the way it did in many other MMOs. In large part, I think that is because the whole idea of raids flies in the face of what Guild Wars 2 is typically about and what most of its players show up for. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting or trying to capture a new audience, but I think most players could have predicted the lukewarm-at-best reception that raids received.
Honestly, I liked the features HoT brought with it more than I liked the actual expansion itself. The zones were a chore to traverse (though they aren’t too bad now if you have a skyscale, griffon or even just a springer), the story felt weak and rushed, and the mob density was just too high, especially in the later zones.
That said, it had great meta events that I still play from time to time. Rewards like the stat-selectable bladed gear keep me coming back, and fights like Dragon’s Stand are just a lot of fun.
Path of Fire changed everything… again
I stand by the statement that Heart of Thorns brought the biggest change to the way we play Guild Wars 2, but Path of Fire managed to be far closer than anyone expected. The expansion brought mounts to the game. That sounds incredibly boring to most MMO players; every MMO has mounts. They’re just showy speed boosts, right? Well, Guild Wars 2 wasn’t content with that, and created a variety of mounts with different movement types for different situations. Each of the seven mount types we were introduced to across this expansion and the ensuing Living World season feel unique and have their own place in your toolkit. (Yes, even the jackal, though to be fair, it is much more specialized and is usually interchangeable with the raptor.)
Having a second elite spec for each class finally showed the true potential of this system, allowing players to actually customize their playstyle instead of, in most cases, choosing between an elite spec version of their class that may or may not click with them or a usually objectively worse core version. I knew so many Mesmers and Rangers who were really grumpy during the Heart of Thorns era about feeling pressured into support roles when they just wanted to be DPS. A second elite spec let a lot of players have their preferred playstyle on their preferred class once again or allowed players to get into a class they had never quite clicked with before.
Studio contracted, Icebrood Saga disappointed
Then we come to a bit of a dark age for Guild Wars 2. At the beginning of 2019, ArenaNet suffered a round of mass layoffs, affecting hundreds of employees. Not all of them were working directly on Guild Wars 2, as there were a number of unannounced projects going on behind-the-scenes that were canceled at this time, but it was still a huge blow to the studio and morale surrounding the game.
This was particularly memorable for me, as this happened at the same time that Massively Overpowered was doing a round of hiring, and I almost wasn’t picked up to write this Flameseeker Chronicles column: Nobody was sure what Guild Wars 2’s future was going to look like, if it had one at all, which of course put the future of this column in question. ArenaNet quickly assured players that the game wasn’t going anywhere, but I still felt that my first published piece on this site needed to be an argument against the game’s impending doom. I’m glad I was right!
Further evidence of the studio’s contraction was The Icebrood Saga, the next iteration of the Living World. I think the phrase “It’s bigger than a season. It’s a saga!” originally uttered at the reveal event, will haunt this team forever because over the coming months, it became clear that Icebrood Saga wasn’t really bigger than previous Living World chapters; it was just different. It delivered smaller content at a faster pace, which averaged out to be about the same. Ultimately, after a lot of apathy about the Saga and its story, it was cut short with a rushed ending in favor of the End of Dragons expansion. I still wish it had been handled better, but I also recognize that this was the right call.
The best thing, in my opinion, that Icebrood Saga did give us was strike missions. At first, I was skeptical of strikes. Given that they were 10-player content just like raids, it seemed like these were just there to be gateway raids, easier and shorter versions of raids so non-raiders won’t feel so afraid of those big intimidating encounters (this isn’t why players don’t raid, but that’s a whole other topic).
But after spending some time in them, I’ve come to realize that this really isn’t the case. I believe strikes are exactly what Guild Wars 2’s endgame should always have been. They are accessible; you can easily beat a strike in a group using everyday exotic gear, no need to mess around with ascended gear or infusions or anything like that. They respect your time; no messing around with trash pulls or unskippable dialogue, just jump straight in and fight a boss. If you have a half hour to kill, you can burn through at least a couple of the easier strikes in that time, and if you want to make a night out of it, you can do a whole set. In short, they are, to my mind, the most Guild Wars 2-feeling endgame activity in the game.
End of Dragons has me truly optimistic for the future
Guild Wars 2’s first two expansions are a tough act to follow. How do you top gliding and the most interesting mount system of any MMO? Fishing and skiffs are fun, but there’s just nothing that was going to compare to either of those systems.
That said, what ArenaNet did deliver in End of Dragons was a remarkably solid expansion after the shaky few years it had with Icebrood. The story was top-notch, the zone design was great, and this round of elite specs gave us more flexibility than ever in how we play our characters.
I was happy to see that strike missions have continued to be a priority, this time integrated into the story to give everyone a chance to see the fights solo even if they choose to never group up. And the addition of challenge modes has been a boon for those who really crave a more difficult experience.
Sadly, the launch of this excellent expansion was marred by the frustrating decision to lock one of the tentpole features, the siege turtle mount, behind an uncharacteristically frustrating meta event. After a few updates, Dragon’s End is a lot more possible than it was on launch day, but you should still be prepared to fail a lot if you’re chasing that turtle egg.
And so much more
These are just the major moments in Guild Wars 2’s history that stand out to me. There are so many other little moments, both good and bad, that didn’t make this list. And any number of things that were unique to me, my circle of in-game friends, and the various guilds I’ve been a part of over the years. I’d love to hear your standout moments down in the comments!
Guild Wars 2 has been my virtual home for 10 years now. It isn’t the perfect MMO, nor does it have the perfect community, but it’s the best one for me. Whatever the future holds, whether Guild Wars 2 goes on for another ten years or Guild Wars 3 is in our future, I’m excited for the future of this franchise and hope to keep sharing it with you in Flameseeker Chronicles!