We're still two weeks out from the start of the living world's second season, and ArenaNet has so far been especially cryptic where the future is concerned. We've speculated all there is to speculate for now, and summer heat makes me cranky, so before we blast off to any new horizons, let's take a look back at a few of the unfinished, unimplemented, and underutilized elements of GW2 that could really use some catching up.
Whenever I wander into Divinity's Reach, two things usually happen: A carnival worker will tell me to check out Mina's shooting gallery, and Mina will tell me her shooting gallery is closed unless I'm a friend of Minister Caudecus. As a royalist who fiercely supports Queen Jennah, I am curiously absent from the guest list. This is probably for the minister's own safety.
GW2 has its fair share of minigames, and most of them are accessible from major cities. Most of them are also instanced, though, which takes away somewhat from their original purpose: to give players something to do while we're cooling our heels in the city and socializing. The absence of city-based activities is made more conspicuous by the clearly marked minigame-shaped holes that haven't yet been filled. Rata Sum has a polymock arena. Pre-destruction Lion's Arch contained a cleverly branded little area that seemed to hint at minipet battles.
Will ArenaNet ever get a chance to add that sort of activity? It's hard to say, since they haven't been commented on in some time. When last year's Dragon Bash festival introduced moa racing in Lion's Arch, there was some speculation that city activities would see a revival, but the races turned out to just be gambling with no player input beyond betting. The moas have now gone to that great racetrack in the sky, and we don't even know if their tiny replacements will grow up to take their place. Rest in peace, Meep.
In the meantime, let me teach you how to play my favorite minigame. It's accessible only from Rata Sum, and admittedly it's a little bit glitchy. The first step is to make sure you have a nearby waypoint visible on your minimap that can be clicked immediately. The second step is easy: Fling yourself off the side of the city into the great beyond and see how far you can slide before you either waypoint to safety or hit an obstacle and die.
It's called cube surfing, and all the cool kids are doing it. You earn extra points if the game gets confused as to where the heck you are and deposits you alive on the usually inaccessible ledge you were about to splatter against instead of at the waypoint. It's perfectly safe. Trust me -- I'm a professional writer.
Character personality does absolutely nothing in GW2. I'll be the first to admit that. As of the April 15th feature pack, it does even less than it did before, since the redesign of the hero panel did away with the neat little icon we used to get to tell us how our dialogue choices had influenced our characters' personalities. There were even possibilities beyond the initial "charming," "dignified," and "fierce" to unlock if you'd picked a range of dialogue options.
On one hand, it's understandable if it's been scuttled. As features go, it barely counted; early plans to have character personality influence NPC reactions and even some content never came to fruition. It was also entirely possible to just click dialogue options over and over to get the personality you wanted, since NPCs don't actually care whether you just ticked them off with a renegade dialogue choice and will happily accept the nicer option when you repeat the conversation.
Then again, it's kind of disappointing to see one of the few pure roleplaying tidbits in the game get the axe. I might be bemoaning its demise too soon, since personality is still selectable in character creation and to my knowledge none of the NPC conversations with personality-specific dialogue has been removed. But it doesn't bode well for the system that such a minor perk got dropped.
The lack of meat in the personality system and its subsequent fade makes me wonder how character stories will be handled in future content. I'm not the biggest fan of the personal story, even though I appreciated the intent behind it; it seemed like an attempt to provide a Mass Effect or Dragon Age-style narrative. I think one of the fundamental differences between a single-player RPG and an MMORPG is found in experiencing a story -- even a customizable one -- versus being turned loose to define your own. GW2's personal story couldn't possibly provide a full single-player RPG experience, and yet it tried to go too far in that direction to be useful to roleplayers.
In that light, I'm hopeful that the new story journal heralds a different way of doing things, allowing ArenaNet to sidestep previous issues with the personal story. However, the biography questions and personality-defining options are the better, less intrusive part of all of that, and I hope they can be expanded on instead of discarded. I know players who chose the dead sister storyline just for the opportunity to define their human character's ethnic background, which has no impact on gameplay, story, or dialogue in the rest of the game. It's not even visible to other players. But it's still important, because the game itself is validating the player's own character concept.
I'm rooting for the personality system to make a comeback, along with fresh content related to other biography choices. If the storyline no longer has to branch based on pre-written events from our characters' history, maybe we'll have a chance to define who they are in subtler, more open-ended ways.
Wait, what? Events are a huge part of GW2. You can't swing a sword without getting credit for an event. Even World vs. World and living world content are full of events. Where in Tyria do I get off saying that events are an incomplete feature?
Events are something of a side dish now when originally they were one of the main selling points of the game. For what they are, they're great. Pre-launch, many of GW2's critics pointed out that it wasn't the first MMO to implement public questing and that the feature hadn't gone well in at least one previous attempt. That GW2 more or less successfully pulled off replacing traditional questing with dynamic events was actually a big deal, and it has definitely contributed to event systems slowly but surely becoming a common feature in MMOs. Like most true steps forward it clicked naturally into place, and the greatest evidence of it having passed the "good stuff" test is how quickly it became old news to MMO fans, setting a new bar for future games to surpass.
In open world content it quickly becomes very clear that GW2's dynamic events are questing in another form, although that's not necessarily a bad thing unless you really hate questing (I enjoy it). Like traditional questing, GW2's dynamic events are a mixed bag. Some of them can be summed up as "kill this many foozles because of reasons," while others have full storylines or hilarious dialogue. It's clear that a lot of work and love went into creating many of the open world events, and the system gets a chance to shine in zones with long and interconnected event chains. It wears thin when interchangeable events lack variety and repeat themselves every 10 minutes or so.
That happens quite a bit.
ArenaNet's original goal for dynamic events was to keep peppering them throughout the world, hopefully in such a way that players would always be seeing new events and wondering whether or not they had always been there. It tried this exactly once, during the Halloween event of 2012. When the new events were met with "little fanfare," it seems that ArenaNet may have abruptly switched tactics.
This caused understandable confusion in the playerbase. Weren't new events supposed to enrich the world without causing much of a stir? It didn't help that the new stuff happens rarely; the Skritt Burglar event, for example, can pop up just about anywhere and is difficult to track down even if you're aware of the achievements attached to it. I spend most of my time in the open world, and I've encountered it only three times in over two thousand hours of playing GW2.
It's understandable that the living world concept took the place of frequent, low-key event additions. Voice acting for characters takes money. The living world and associated updates have done great things for keeping GW2 in the news and relevant in ways that sprinkling new events around would not have. But it has unquestionably resulted in the game world feeling less organic and "alive" to have changes localized almost entirely around areas which are currently the focus of big events. If the living world story is meant to inspire intrigue and wonder in players, it does it in a very specific way -- even ambient and text dialogue isn't usually changed to reflect the living world unless it's in the immediate vicinity of the impact site. That's improving, but NPCs still discuss the mysterious hole in Divinity's Reach and talk about how much they'd like to visit Lion's Arch.
My hope is that any new areas we might see in season two of the living world will play up the event system. There's probably a reason many players are iffy on counting Southsun Cove as an example when talking about their desire for new content because even with multiple releases focused on it and an infusion of events taking place there, it never quite lived up to the playability of older zones, especially on repeat visits. A new area rich in stories, characters, discoveries, and activities is what I think most of us are looking forward to, and most of the zones available at launch did that right. I'd just like to see more of what was already a good thing.
I've taken a few days off from GW2 in the past week for the purpose of mental preparedness. I'm basically in a state of self-induced stasis until we start getting substantial information and teasers about season two, at which point I will spring back to life like a brine shrimp, only with more excited hand gestures. Brine shrimp don't have hands.
What's a feature or aspect of gameplay you wish ArenaNet would inject new life into? Are you getting antsy waiting for the new season? Did you know that water bears are 7000% more awesome than brine shrimp? 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 other Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at firstname.lastname@example.org. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.