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!

Why I’m Hoping For A Guild Wars 2 Expansion

All aboard, the Hype Train is now departing from the Rumor Mill bound for Speculation City. The above logo appeared in a teaser at the end of the latest Living World quest, which released yesterday. I won’t spoil anything for anyone, but man, this is the first time Guild Wars 2 has left me with an epic plot twist that left me wanting more. Strangely enough, though, the trailer didn’t specify what exactly Heart of Thorns was, leaving us with only a teaser to keep an eye on PAX later this month to find out more. This ambiguity has, of course, has lead to wild speculation by the players. Is it simply another chapter of the Living World story, or could it be the coveted expansion many players have been begging for? Many have pointed out that there hasn’t been a major influx of talent normally associated with expansion development, and ArenaNet has stated on multiple occasions that they’re not looking to release an expansion any time soon, claiming that Living World provides the necessary diet of new content necessary to keep players coming back. Nevertheless, I’m hoping against hope that this is a full blown expansion for several reasons.

The Living World has been mediocre at best
I’m sorry to say it, but, as cool an idea as the Living World is, it just isn’t really panning out. It feels more like work than anything. I feel bad for missing the content, but at the same time I’m not that interested in it. On more than one occasion I’ve had to scramble to get the latest chapter of the story done the night before the new release. It’s a little better with season two, since, if you miss a chapter, you can at least pay 200 gems a pop to unlock chapters you’ve missed, but you’re also paying roughly $2 for maybe an hour of questing that you could have gotten for free if you had been a little more timely. Also a lot of the stories have felt like the writers are stalling; like they haven’t decided what to do next yet so they just threw together a fluff side story and a boss so they could meet their two week deadline. And don’t even get my started on the rollercoaster difficulty. I’m sure the good people of ArenaNet are doing the best they can, but maybe there’s a reason every MMO since time immemorial has released updates monthly, not bi-monthly.

An expansion means a bunch of fresh content
It wouldn’t be an expansion without a level cap increase and a few shiny new zones to go with it, right? As uninterested as I am in getting that 100% map completion achievement, I’m always excited to explore new zones. We got two zones this season, which, honestly, isn’t that exciting. Also both of them were boring desert zones. I’d like to see a whole new area of the map open up. Also, dare I dream of a new class? Maybe even one with a healing focus? (Not likely, but I can dream) A new race wouldn’t go amiss either. And I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to some bigger dungeons. Not hardcore WoW 40 mans or anything, just something more than 5 mans. Something that scales to your group size a la LotRO’s Skirmishes would be amazing as well.

It will (hopefully) mean more personal story
Regardless of how you feel about Traherne and the fact that he suddenly shows up and steals the spotlight of your “personal” story, I think we can all agree that the personal story ended on a rather weak note. Granted I felt that, depending on your choices when creating your character, the rest of the story ranged anywhere from boring to, at best, only mildly interesting, but maybe I’m just spoiled by games like SWTOR. A new chapter of the personal story could hopefully turn a weak story ending into just a weak intermission. Yes, the point of Living World was to pick up where your personal story left off, but the fact that new and currently sub-80 players won’t get to experience it (without essentially paying for an expansion, something I can’t say I could recommend to a new player given its quality) makes it seem more like a sidequest to your personal story than a new chapter. Especially if, as it appears from the logo, the expansion focuses on killing another Elder Dragon.

It’s a chance for ArenaNet to start over
From mediocre storytelling to frustrating changes to traits and dailies, Guild Wars 2 has seen its share of bad decisions. An expansion is a perfect time to make big changes to unpopular systems. Sure, you could do this anytime, but you don’t want to send the message that you gave in to whining masses. That will just encourage vocal minorities to complain all the more in hopes that their demands will be met. Making these changes in an expansion makes it seem like you were planning on doing this anyway.

A full blown expansion may or may not be on the horizon for Guild Wars 2, but I think it would go a long way toward pleasing current players and bringing in new ones. What are your thoughts on mystery of Heart of Thorns? Let me know in the comments!