The Living Story wrapper tends to obfuscate the normal patching process. Every two weeks we all cast the runes trying to decipher the rambling, incoherent narrative and chase madly after the shiny at the end of the Achievement rainbow.
Meanwhile the traditional tuning and tweaking that marks the progress of an MMO in full sail creaks and groans in the background. In other times, in other games, those are the changes that would be the hotly-debated talking points; here they can pass with barely a comment.
Two innovations slipped in by the back door this time, both greeted with quiet but apparently universal acceptance. Firstly, The Wallet pulls a number of items that were previously held as virtual physical icons out of storage and into a game-window. It's a common practice in MMOs seeking to avoid currency clutter. Secondly, all Champion mobs now leave a Steel Chest behind when they die. Each of these changes has wide-ranging implications for how the game will be played in the future, one very personal, the other very public.
|Don't go in dungeons much, eh?|
The Wallet raises issues that are mostly metaphysical. For the vast majority of players it will almost certainly be received as a universal good. Who doesn't want to have all their currencies neatly tabulated and stored in one place rather than spread out across the inventories and banks of half a dozen characters? Who doesn't want the vault space back?
Well, people who play their characters as individuals, perhaps? Players who don't see their characters as an amorphous mass of "Toons", mere ciphers of the hand behind the keyboard. Players who don't see why an Engineer who never lifted a flamethrower to defend his borderland should be able to claim a thousand Badges of Honor that were earned in hard battle by some Ranger the Engineer never even met.
It's hardly worth bothering about in GW2, of course. The base unit there is and always has been The Account. All this new refinement really does is shift the underlying structure towards a more coherent form. The game arrived with an ill-thought-out muddle of Account- and Character- based functions that already required a good deal of double-think to reconcile.
As a character-player of longstanding I regret the trend toward Account-based play now becoming widespread across the genre. It makes for lazy play on my part when, as I inevitably do, I take advantage of the indisputable convenience it brings. Under any system, however, character-play ultimately rests in the hands of the person guiding the characters. If I was really that interested I could still keep notes of who earned what to make sure no-one got a free ride.
Alternatively (and it's the lazy fix I choose to make) I can consider all my characters part of a team, create an organization for them in my head and play them accordingly. With two accounts I even have two separate teams, which allows for both co-operation and competition. And banter.
|They also serve who only stand and wait at the bank|
So The Wallet is assimilable into most existing playstyles. Any changes to gameplay that it brings to the individual player are invisible to others around him or her. Not so the Champion Chests.
This isn't the first time ArenaNet have fiddled with the reward mechanism for stronger creatures. At first Champions, the unnamed Nameds of Tyria, dropped nothing, or rather they had exactly the same chance at dropping exactly the same loot any other, weaker mob around them might drop. So no-one killed them if they could help it. A lot of extra work for no extra reward.
After a few months Champions received a pass that guaranteed they would always drop something. That prospect caused some excitement, which quickly dissipated when it was found that what they always dropped was a Blue item worth a few copper to a vendor or, if you were very lucky, a Green worth a silver or so. End result, Champions continued to be ignored.
|Other designs are avaialble|
In the case of Champions there's another wrinkle. Inside the chest is the drop the Champion used to have, if any, plus some kind of Exotic bag or pouch and inside that you'll find coin, skill points, crafting materials, weapons and armor, and if you're very, very lucky, a unique weapon skin. And that has become, overnight, quite literally a game-changer.
A few months ago a similar change was made to "World Bosses", the Dragons and other meta-events around Tyria. They began to give first a flurry of Rares and then another guaranteed Rare on top of that. For a while there was a frenzy, which then settled to a routine. All but the least-accessible "dragons" were dutifully farmed by medium-sixed zergs day and night.
I first observed the new emergent behavior that has replaced this tradition when I was crossing Frostgorge Sound in search of balloons. Map chat was alive with people calling "Drake", "Shark" and pinging waypoints. It transpires that within days, quite possibly hours, of the new loot changes a whole culture has sprung up. PvE "Commanders" sporting their 100g tags are leading zergs of greed-crazed adventurers on kill sprees through any high-level zone that sustains a large population of fast-respawning Champions.
|Wait for meeeeeee|
This event recycles constantly with an eight-minute refresh, provided you do it right. I forget whether we were supposed to Fail or Succeed, but get that the wrong way round and it's a two-hour wait. We were fortunate enough to have some Commanders guesting from another server where that had happened, or rather where the event had, as they bitterly described it, "been trolled" .
|On the right target for once|
This is but the latest revolution in a repeating cycle in which ArenaNet introduces a change that is seen by a significant proportion of the playerbase as a quick and dirty route to loot. It began with the Fractals, which differed slightly in that the driver was loot you couldn't get anywhere else, then moved to the Dragons and now to Champions. Interspersed or layered on top are the limited duration hotspots like the Southsun riots and the current Crown Pavilion.
I'm the last person to say this kind of gameplay isn't fun and people certainly seemed to be having a good time, as was I with the best part of a bottle of red inside me, but I do have to wonder why it's only become fun now that there's a substantial material reward tagged on the end. After all, exactly the same gameplay was available two weeks ago but absolutely no-one was interested in doing it back then.
In 2010 Mike O'Brien, President of ArenaNet, published the GW2 Design Manifesto. In the opening paragraph he wrote "We believe that gamers want to try new things, new experiences, and that they’ll reward the companies who can bring them something new."
Or you could just let them run around smashing loot pinatas. That works too.