ArenaNet receives very frequent requests to revive the setting of Guild Wars: Factions in GW2, and between GW2's Chinese release, the level of mystery surrounding season two of the living world, and the return of the Zephyrites, it's natural that people would start talking about Cantha again. It might seem baffling that ArenaNet hasn't rushed to steer the living world story in such an obviously popular direction, but unfortunately it's not as simple as loading us on the next airship and flying away to Seitung Harbor -- at least not yet.
Because the stars are not yet right
Probably the biggest obstacle to Cantha's addition is its lore. Of all the places we know it's possible to go, Cantha might require the longest plot buildup and the most extreme change of direction from the current plot.
For players, Cantha represents the promise of a true change of scenery in an environment that's historically quite different from any of the places we currently have access to. Inside the world of Tyria, though, it's no vacation destination: For all anyone knows, Cantha may as well have deliberately dropped off the planet. Durmand Priory scholars are probably dreaming sweetly of getting our -- uh, their -- hands into Canthan soil and seeing how it's changed, and descendents of Canthan refugees are arguably the most isolated cultural group in Kryta, but as things stand right now, the fate of Cantha is barely a blip on the "disasters threatening Tyria" radar.
It's entirely possible that it could become a pressing concern at any time, of course; I know that I didn't expect GW2's story to even acknowledge the existence of Mordremoth until we'd confronted at least one more known Elder Dragon. I wasn't alone in that: A lot of fans speculated that ArenaNet was holding two dragons in reserve against needing to make big content reveals down the line. We really don't know where the story of the Elder Dragons is headed, though; one point in favor of the living world content model over the expansion model is that we may not have to wait several years for each angry magic lizard to get vanquished in turn in its own themed extravaganza.
Here's my prediction, since I'm doing OK on that so far: Cantha will happen sooner than people might expect. ArenaNet has been very quiet on the subject of season two of the living world... a little too quiet. Those devs are cooking something up. No, I don't think it's Cantha (or delicious wurms), but I do think it's probably big changes to the type of content we're used to seeing from the living world. It's reasonable to be worried that we'll languish in Tyria forever, crawling at a snail's pace toward other continents, but only if the first season of the living world story is assumed to have gone off exactly the way ArenaNet wanted it and that the developers are happy making changes to existing zones forever. I don't think that's the case at all, not the least because adding expansion-worthy content is part of ArenaNet's definite plans.
Yes, there is sometimes a vast difference between what developers want to do and what they end up doing, and it's frequently pointed out that we never got much in the way of big, permanent, game-changing content through season one of the living world story. Could we travel to distant continents, get access to new playable races, and unlock new weapons or professions through the living world? Sure, and ArenaNet has expressed an interest in moving in that direction. After a year of the living world, has anything along those lines happened? Not at all.
Season one ended on an encouraging note, and many of the problems with the whole shebang can be chalked up to growing pains, but season two is where the living world concept will need to go big or go home, as the movie trailers say. It has much less room to stumble or to entertain talk about potential without also proving that it can live up to it. I am one hundred percent sure that ArenaNet is very much aware of this and that we'll start getting some of those big content updates pretty soon. I also feel somewhat confident in saying that Cantha (along with Elona and places probably yet undreamed of) is a when, not an if.
One of the winners of last year's Into The Pixel art competition was a gorgeous digital painting by ArenaNet's Senior Art Director, Daniel Dociu. Titled Crossroads and labeled as being from an unannounced ArenaNet game, the piece portrays a high-tech city. Naturally, this generated some buzz. Could it be concept art for Cantha? Would we cross the ocean only to find that 250 years of isolation has resulted in a massive tech boom?
Sadly, it isn't related to Cantha or even to GW2 (although the idea of a mysterious ArenaNet side project is very interesting). Still, it got me thinking about what I'd even want from Cantha if it returned, and I think I'd be happy to see ArenaNet shake up our expectations in a big way. I know I'm in the minority, but I loved Kaineng's labyrinth of vertical urban structures and can't help dreaming of what it'd be like to explore a cityscape with GW2's jumping and exploration.
I'm sure a lot of fans would be perfectly happy if ArenaNet rebuilt GW1's version of Cantha, only bigger and more beautiful. Factions was GW1's first campaign, and I imagine that for many players that represents the moment at which the world of Tyria opened up and ArenaNet showed how vast it could really be. But mainland Tyria has changed dramatically in the time between GW1 and GW2, and we know that events in Elona have resulted in massive upheaval there as well. There's an equally likely chance that modern Cantha would bear little resemblance to the place we remember.
At the very least, I think it'll be a waste if that isn't the case. Original flavor Cantha would draw inevitable comparisons to World of Warcraft's Mists of Pandaria expansion, even without the talking fuzzballs. Most other MMOs with an Asian fantasy theme have actually been developed for Asian audiences in their countries of origin, but there have still been quite a few of them recently. If ArenaNet wants to put a fresh spin on Cantha -- and I hope it does -- that probably wouldn't require any less work than building a totally new continent. In fact, it might require even more work to make sure that it pleases GW1 veterans, appeals to new players, helps differentiate GW2 from other MMOs on the market, and manages to do all of that without co-opting other people's mythology and leaving big clown shoe prints all over it.
There is very little solid, confirmed information available to us about what exactly went down with the removal of the Canthan district in Divinity's Reach (which is now the site of the Crown Pavilion), but both the Cantha support thread on the official forums and commentary on third-party fansites are full of speculation and rumors repeated as fact. As if to mimic a mass game of Telephone, the removal of a single Canthan-themed area from one zone in alpha due to a "cultural consideration" has morphed into a popular conception of NCsoft as evil overlords who demanded the removal of all Asian cultural influences from GW2 and forbade ArenaNet from letting Cantha creep into the lore.
This scenario doesn't hold up under the most gentle scrutiny, even if we hadn't been directly told that Cantha and Elona aren't off the table. If ArenaNet isn't allowed to add elements inspired by Asian cultures, it's certainly very strange that the Tengu we meet in game are almost entirely reminiscent of the Canthan Angchu tribe instead of the Quetzal and Cairomi tribes, both of which are native to the areas bordering the Dominion of Winds. We also have multiple NPCs descended from Canthan refugees, Vigil members who suggest heading to Cantha to see what's going on there, and weapon sets that evoke Canthan nostalgia. From the looks of it, the upcoming Festival of the Four Winds will see the already Canthanesque Zephyrites embracing that theme even more vigorously; even if that's just for the benefit of the new players in China, it still makes the idea of an anti-Cantha plot look pretty silly.
I've touched before on the conspiracy theories that sometimes take root in the GW2 community, and I'm always bitterly disappointed in the xenophobia some gamers display toward players from China and Korea. ArenaNet is a relatively progressive company, one that has a history of trying to make players of all kinds feel respectfully represented. If ArenaNet was told that it had not succeeded in respectful representation, I can imagine that the developers would feel a sincere desire to do better. Dismissing that as "censorship" or "political correctness" implies that nobody would want to change things to make them more inclusive if they didn't absolutely have to, and I think that's giving the devs too little credit.
Listening to the voices of people from different cultural backgrounds can do wonders for the quality of creative products. Not only does it become less likely that creators not of those cultures will hurt someone by mishandling, erasing, or taking credit for something precious, but it helps in avoiding tired tropes and stereotypes and incorporating fresh perspectives. Players are understandably homesick for GW1's Cantha, but by listening to fans whose actual home and mythology inspired it, I think ArenaNet is far more likely to create something fantastic that can be enjoyed by everyone. It just might take a little longer than if the studio simply introduced Shing Jea 2.0 for old times' sake.
And here's a challenge for the GW2 community as a whole: We need to stop making and tolerating comments that suggest ArenaNet's listening to paying customers and new community members in China constitutes some kind of hostile takeover. Call out racist jokes and comments; question speculation and opinions about GW2's development that masquerade as facts. Do that because it's the right thing to do, but also because it doesn't reflect well on our community to be demanding a fantasy playground based on a real part of the world if so many of us apparently view players from that part of the world with contempt and suspicion.
On a lighter note, I'm off to strap lightning to my feet and bounce all over the most rickety, dangerous-looking wooden structure I can find. And if I survive, I'll play some GW2! Ha ha, I jest -- I never have found moon shoes that will let me do those flippy jumps in real life. Don't try this at home, kids!
How do you feel about Cantha? Are you dying to see it? Maybe you're not a fan? Does anyone want to join me on Team Elona-Is-Just-As-Fun-And-Only-A-Wurm-Ride-Away? Let us know in the comments, and I'll see you in the Mists!
Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's biweekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at firstname.lastname@example.org. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.