GW2: Expansion Wishlist

We know an expansion is near at hand in Guild Wars 2–late Summer or early Fall based on what’s coming out of ArenaNet–but we know virtually nothing about it. Yes, there was that leak on Reddit, but I don’t like reading or encouraging leaks (though I must admit I skimmed through the images briefly) and there’s still a lot those don’t tell us. It’s a little ridiculous that we’re supposedly this close to the expansion and we don’t know much of anything, but I’m guessing that releasing too many details, maybe even the expansion name itself, would be spoilers for the end of Season 3. Kind of poor planning if so, but whatever. Regardless, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to see in the next expansion to Guild Wars 2.

A New Race And/Or Class
Ideally, I would love it if every MMO expansion had a new race or class to experience. Too many expansions are basically just a level cap bump and a continuation of an existing story (I’m looking at you, SWTOR), but Guild Wars 2 doesn’t do level cap bumps, and it gives away Living World story updates for free, so without something more, that would seem like even more of a ripoff than in other games. New classes give me a whole new way of playing, breathing new life into even old content. You may recall that I didn’t really dig into the Heart of Thorns expansion for months because I was having so much fun leveling my Revenant. New races, too, give me an excuse to roll up an alt and see the world from a new perspective. The problem with adding races is that Guild Wars 2 has kind of painted itself into a corner with its personal story; it wouldn’t make sense for a member of a race we’ve never seen before show up and become the pact commander and slay a couple dragons years before we’ve even encountered that race. A new race would either have to start out at 80 and jump straight into the accompanying expansion (which would be kind of lame) or have a full 1-80 story all its own, which would require a lot of writing, voice acting, and several new sub-80 zones, all of which seem unlikely. Sadly, adding new classes also presents a problem. You can’t really add a new class every expansion or it will eventually become overwhelming. As much as I love creating new characters, some people don’t, and new players can be intimidated by too many options, especially if they see that some of those options (maybe the ones they really wanted to play) gated by expansion paywalls. Elite Specs further complicate the issue; assuming we add one new class and one elite spec to all of the existing classes, the new class is always going to be one behind, since it wasn’t around for the Heart of Thorns wave of elite specs. None of these things prevent them from creating new races or classes, but right now it certainly seems like it will get less likely with each expansion.

More Elite Specs
I’m pretty sure this is a given at this point. I really like almost all of the classes in Guild Wars 2 as they stand, but more choice is always better. I love the idea of being able to make major changes to the way my class plays based on what spec I choose. Classes get a new weapon, several new slot skills, and sometimes even end up being able to fill a new role (most notably the ranger’s druid spec). It’s a nice middle ground between the rigid classes of more WoW-like MMOs and the overwhelming amount of customization available in games like Rift and Elder Scrolls Online. Right now there is only one elite spec for each class, and it’s almost universally better–at least for PvE–to have your elite spec slotted, even if you don’t use the weapon that it gives. But very soon that’s all going to change, and I’m excited to see what unfolds.

More Masteries, Less Grind
I like that Guild Wars 2 has chosen to not bump up the level cap with its expansions. Level cap bumps only serve to invalidate old gear and make old content irrelevant, especially in a game with level scaling. The problem is that you really need some kind of mechanic that slows players down, a brake that keeps players from simply binging through the story and coming out feeling unsatisfied. That mechanic should be fun, and Heart of Thorn’s mastery grind wasn’t particularly fun. There were a couple of problems. First was that, if you knew what masteries you needed to progress in the story ahead of time, you could focus on those masteries as you went, and it didn’t feel so much like the game was saying “ok, now stop and grind to an arbitrary level before continuing.” But there was no way for you to know unless you looked up a guide or talked to a friend who had already been through it. The Living World stories did better at pointing out the elite spec before you ran into its gate, so hopefully the new expansion will do the same. Second, I think the system would work better if there were a whole bunch of little masteries that cost one or two mastery points each instead of each tier costing more, up to twelve for the really high end ones. I know that’s probably easier said than done, but I think it would give a better sense of progress and feel less grindy.

Flatter Zones
My biggest annoyance with Heart of Thorns was not the mastery grind, it was getting around those awful zones. There are so many sheer walls and layers on top of each other that the map is practically useless for navigating. Auric Basin isn’t bad, Verdant Brink would be tolerable if there weren’t random mastery- and hero points that you have to glide to from a boss fight in the sky, but Tangled Depths is the absolute worst. I basically only go there for the story and if I’ve absolutely run out of reasonably doable hero points in the other zones. Add to that the fact that the number of waypoints per zone in these areas is about a third was it was in the vanilla game, none of them near where you’re likely to die, and it’s just an overall frustrating experience getting around in the newer zones. Masteries make it a little easier to get around, but even with them it’s incredibly frustrating. I think ArenaNet has learned their lesson from Heart of Thorns, as the Season 3 maps have been a lot easier to get around in. Draconis Mons is the only zone with a lot of layers, and with the grappling hook-like Oakheart’s Reach mastery, it’s actually fun to get around.

A Story About Something Other Than Dragons
Two stories in a row about dragons is fine. Whatever. But there’s so much more you could do! If the living world story is any indication, I may be getting my wish, but I’m still not convinced they won’t throw a random fight with Kralkatorrik in there just for good measure. Oh, but [minor spoilers] don’t kill him, because apparently killing dragons is bad for the environment or something.


Heart of Thorns: An Expansion Beats DLC

Recently there has been a rash of MMOs announcing that they are ditching the traditional expansion pack model in favor of smaller DLCs. In a way, this really shouldn’t be surprising; the game market as a whole has been doing this for years now, so MMOs seem a little late to the party. But I don’t really think this trend is in players’ best interest. While I was brainstorming this post, Justin Olivetti over at Bio Break posted a great article on this trend, so go read his post because he probably summed it up better than I would have anyway. I wanted to echo his thoughts and talk specifically about why I’m glad Guild Wars 2’s Heart of Thorns is an expansion and not just a DLC.

Back in January, in the days when all we knew about Heart of Thorns was an ambiguous teaser at the end of Season 2 of the Living World story, I wrote about why I was hoping HoT was an expansion. The main gist of the post was that, although ArenaNet repeatedly claimed that the Living Story would, by the end, add up to an expansion’s worth of content, it simply didn’t. Eight chapters of roughly half an hour of questing each with roller coaster difficulty and two bland zones does not equal an expansion. Put all of the Living World content together and you have at best a mini-expansion, what some marketers are calling “DLC.” (Isn’t the whole game technically downloadable content?) A DLC which probably isn’t substantial enough for me to pay for (I missed at least one episode of Season 2 and I don’t plan on going back and buying it). I admittedly haven’t read up on the scale of the DLC/frequent chunk updates planned for games like LotRO and EQ2, but when I hear the idea I immediately think of the Living World and how mediocre it felt and am a bit turned off by the idea.

Also there is, of course, the fact that an expansion sounds a lot better than DLC. I’ve tried to explain the Living World updates to friends who play other MMOs, and I’ve almost always been met with something along the lines of “Oh, my game does content patches sometimes too.” No, that’s not the same thing. Well, kinda, but not really. MMO players in other games can relate to a game dumping a bunch of new features and content in an expansion, and players within the game can rally and get excited about it, but a handful of quests and a couple of new zones, regardless of what other features it may or may not come with, doesn’t sound that enticing to someone outside the game. Also I (and other gamers I know) have judged a game’s activeness by how recently they released an expansion, not by how recently they’ve released a smattering of new quests. If a game hasn’t had a real expansion in two or three years and there’s no sign of one in the future, it comes across as a sign that the developers are losing faith in their product.

Perhaps the worst part of the Living World’s reign is that I felt like Guild Wars 2 was in limbo. It seemed like the developers were constantly rushing to keep up with the every-two-weeks pace of content releases, and improvements to other aspects of the game only got squeezed in while they were taking a short break from the Living World. I’m afraid that a game whose business model is to constantly push out small DLCs will be perpetually stuck in this state. With an expansion, the dev team gets to take a big chunk of time to work on meaningful class changes, new dungeons, and, most importantly, balance them against the rest of the game. We’re already seeing evidence of this with Heart of Thorns, most obviously with the new Revenant class, but also some of the smaller changes like the promise of removing the hard 25-stack bleed cap (my necromancer and thief will be so happy when this change sees daylight). Even better, the player base is usually on board with waiting for this, especially if you tease them with things like dev diaries and closed betas, whereas if you break your advertised release schedule players get restless, even if you assure them it’s for QA purposes.

I know a lot of people favor the DLC model and the promise of new things to do more frequently rather than wait for a truckload of new content to be dumped on you all at once every year or so. What do you think? Is your experience that it’s a struggle between quality and quantity? Or do you see it, as Bio Break puts it, as the same pie cut in smaller pieces? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!