Flameseeker Chronicles: Secrets of the Obscure has me concerned for Guild Wars 2’s future


If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I really like Guild Wars 2. It is my favorite MMORPG of all time and the one I have spent the most time in by far. But just because I love this game doesn’t mean I always agree with the calls that the developers make. They are human and not infallible.

It is part of our job as journalists and bloggers at MassivelyOP to point out when studios make questionable decisions, and in today’s Flameseeker Chronicles I want to talk about some concerns I have about some changes coming with this Fall’s Secrets of the Obscure that I feel are not good for the game’s playerbase or overall health.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. This expansion is, at best, half the size of last year’s End of Dragons. It is launching with two zones instead of four, two strike missions instead of four, and (as far as we know) only one fractal instead of two. It’s safe to assume that the story, with half the space to tell it in, will take roughly half as long to complete as well. EoD had one fractal prior to the expansion cycle (Sunqua Peak) and one at its end (Silent Surf), so maybe that last point isn’t fair, but the argument still stands.

Even calling Secrets of the Obscure half the size of End of Dragons is being a little generous when you take into account the lack of elite specs or new mount. Yes, we’re getting new masteries for the Skyscale and a new system that decouples weapons from their elite specs, but those are comparatively low-effort. We’re getting new weapons later in the year, but even that isn’t the same as giving classes all new specs and associated mechanics.

So this expansion is half the size, big deal. We are, in theory, going to be getting expansions twice as often, so that’s pretty much a wash, all things considered, right? In terms of content quantity, maybe, but the problem is Secrets of the Obscure’s $25 pricetag. Put that next to Path of Fire and End of Dragons, which both launched at $30, and it suddenly doesn’t seem like a very good value; it’s half the content for five-sixths the price.

Sure, I would argue that PoF and EoD were both a steal at $30, but that doesn’t change the fact that, objectively, this is a lot less bang for your buck than what we got just last year.

I’m also unsure about the wisdom of uncoupling elite specs from their accompanying weapons. I know that every time I talk about elite specs here in Flameseeker Chronicles, someone in the comments complains that weapons are tied to specs, but I have always been in favor of it. For one thing, it goes a long way to give the spec a distinct identity; you see somebody with a staff and a pet and you know it’s a Druid without having to click.

More concerning, though, is that the stated reason for this change is to increase build variety, but I’m afraid it will actually lead to less variety in terms of what builds see actual play. Yes, the weaponmaster training system will technically allow for more possible build options, but we all know that the min/maxers will figure out a certain set of meta builds, as they inevitably do, and those will be the default for endgame content.

My concern is this: If you want to play within the meta as a power Elementalist right now, you can pick between sword/dagger Weaver or hammer Catalyst. Both of those are very viable, high-DPS builds that put up about the same numbers, with distinct playstyles that each have their fans and their own set of pros and cons. They occupy a similar space, but they are distinct, not just because of their elite spec mechanics but also because of their weapon mechanics.

But when weapon mastery comes out, parses will be taken and numbers will be crunched, and both of those builds could be replaced with, for instance, hammer Weaver, with Catalyst not even considered anymore because the thing that was good about Catalyst was its weapon, not its spec mechanics. Or, perhaps in reverse, sword may not be considered for either power Weaver or Catalyst because it is just inferior to hammer. In this sense, while you are still perfectly free to play sword/dagger Weaver and hammer Catalyst or even sword/dagger Catalyst, you actually have fewer options if you want to be in line with the meta.

Let me just say, I am not a min/maxer myself. I pulled this example out of the air specifically because I didn’t even try Elementalist in the beta weekend, so don’t take this as build advice. I have never found any Elem spec that I enjoy or am good at, so I don’t know if hammer Weaver was any good, and regardless, adjustments will doubtless be made before Secrets of the Obscure launches. I’m just theorizing for the sake of argument.

Moreover, I am all in favor of playing non-meta builds in this game. There’s nothing wrong with adopting the build that some diehard player has spent hours theorycrafting and testing, but most of the open world content in this game is pretty trivial, so being a little off-meta won’t hurt you. Even in endgame instanced content, I would rather be playing beside people who know their characters and grasp the mechanics of the fight but don’t have the perfect gear or build – within reason – than beside someone who copy-pasted a Snowcrows build but doesn’t know what he’s doing. The player is more important than the build, and outside of maybe CM Raids and the like, group content isn’t really that difficult.

Still, if the stated intention of this change is to increase the variety of builds that are widely played in difficult content, I remain skeptical that it will have that effect. I guess only time will tell.

There’s more. When I first read the news that there would be no new elite spec with this expansion, and then I subsequently read the details about the weaponmaster training system, I figured, OK, there are only 16 terrestrial weapon types in Guild Wars 2, and sooner or later we will run out of new weapons to give to classes, so this is the replacement, or at least a stop-gap, for that.

But then I read on, and it turns out that each class is actually getting an additional new weapon later this year. Surely weaponmaster training would have satisfied players for this expansion, and we could have held off giving new weapons until next expansion! Just what is the plan for future expansions? Is there one? Are we just going to keep going like this until we’re at the point that we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and giving focus to the Warrior? Does ArenaNet not believe there is enough life left in this game for that to be an issue?

Maybe the promise of an additional weapon for each class was added at the last minute without thought of consequences in order to shore up the iffy value proposition discussed above – I don’t know. It just seems like a questionable decision to me.

Please don’t read this as my being completely doom and gloom about Guild Wars 2’s future. We are still getting a new expansion this year – that’s more than many MMOs can say – and I’m still super excited to play it! I wrote a whole article last time praising the changes coming to the Skyscale. I may not be sure of the wisdom of adding new weapons, but I am looking forward to trying them out, as this kind of thing tends to keep classes feeling fresh. And I’m not the only one who spotted what looks like Zojja at the end of that trailer, right? I’ve been wishing for her to return to the story for years now, and it looks like that wish has finally been granted.

That said, I would be lying if I said that the recent trajectory of the game doesn’t make me concerned. Unbundling elite specs and their weapons doesn’t excite me, and I’m not sure it will even achieve its stated goal in practice. And that’s to say nothing of the messy recent balance patch, which seems to have been rushed for the sake of the weaponmaster training beta. I also didn’t even touch on relics, which may or may not be a source of powercreep, but I will reserve judgment on that until we have more information. And on top of all of that, we are being asked to pay almost the same for significantly less content!

Maybe it’ll be the best content ever. Maybe it will blow me away and in a few months I’ll be saying it was worth every penny and I wish the studio had been delivering content this way all along – but ArenaNet will have to work hard to prove that to me.

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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