We won't have to wait too long to get a first look: there will be a playable demo available for PAX East in early March. There's also going to be a beta phase prior to launch. In the meantime, though, it's a case of reading the runes.
Massively has a disturbing interview with Mike O'Brien and Colin Johanson that sends chills down my spine each time I re-read it. The discomfort I felt listening to O'Brien elucidate his vision of the game at the weekend is only compounded by quotes such as this:
"The way that you earn mastery points is, I think, a very Guild Wars 2 way to earn mastery points: You do really really hard things that you on your account have never done before."
As is all too common when I read or hear the words of the senior developers and designers of an MMO I have to wonder if they play the same game that I do. In the three years I've been playing, going back to the beginning of public beta, I cannot recall ever having felt that doing really hard things was the Guild Wars 2 way. Let alone really really hard things. If anything I would have said the exact opposite.
|Any dungeon that ends with my character running around naked is quite difficult enough, thank you.|
Yes, it's true that GW2 has, on occasion, contained the odd "really hard thing". Liadri the Concealing Darkness for example, but in general even the supposedly "hard" things, like the Molten Facility or Marionette were only "hard" when measured by the extremely soft yardstick of the rest of the game. The entire ethos of GW2 has always been about inclusiveness not elitism. That's why we can all revive each other when we fall over, why no-one has to compete for resource nodes and why, at least in theory, we are all always happy to see another player.
So, I'm more than a little concerned about this new conceptualization of GW2 as a "really hard" game. Concerned but not surprised. This change of direction has been creeping up on us for quite a while.
Perhaps the first clear indicator that the wind had shifted came with the introduction of the new mechanics for Living Story Season 2. The first season had been open to everyone. By and large the instances and dungeons scaled to level or your character would be bootstrapped up as necessary. Great care was taken to spread open world events across a range of maps so all levels could join in.
|Don't pressurize me so. (That's a No Prize if ever I saw one)|
Come the second season and everything changed. If you didn't have a max level character you could forget it. The story chapters are hard-coded to require a Level 80. Our guildmate, who only plays on Sunday mornings, not every Sunday and never for more than a couple of hours, has nonetheless been been playing regularly for nearly two years. He has only one character: a Guardian now in the mid-50s. He used to be able to join us for Living Story runs. Not any more. Players with his casual playstyle are no longer welcome.
At the same time the old, easy, inclusive Living World achievement system was ripped out and replaced with something overtly aimed at the elitist's club. Rather than a series of simple, relaxing tasks that would largely fill themselves out as you completed each bi-weekly episode anyone wanting those Achievement Points is now required to replay instanced content in odd, artificial ways in order to hit specified markers of difficulty.
Even before that, though, there were straws in the wind. The changes to the Trait system that came in the first Feature Pack back in Spring 2014, almost universally reviled, contained a plethora of level- or playstyle-inappropriate requirements. To many people playing the game these seemed to have been chosen in order to exclude anyone below a certain level from obtaining them and, while there was some revision under protest, I can attest from my recent leveling run that most still remain.
|Devil Machine (and there's another!)|
At least with the Trait system you can buy your way out of hours of wasted time or "must be this tall to ride" roadblocks. Ten silver or Blazeridge Steppes map completion? It's your choice. I fear the new Mastery System will come with no such get-out clause.
Many early adopters and believers in GW2's founding design principles, handily precised in the game's official online manual's "Don't Worry" section as "There’s no wrong way to play Guild Wars 2; just explore, have fun, and keep trying out new things!", lost faith long ago. Those of us who arrived with our skepticism fully intact may have been better able to roll with the punches. Still, there is that old one about straws and camels' backs...
Ah well, maybe this is all pre-expansion paranoia. With so little in the way of firm details its easy to let either your wish-fulfillment fantasies or your tinfoil hat fears run away with you. And there's a part of that quote above that makes me question just what it is they have up their sleeves: "things that you on your account have never done before".
Tie that in with the assertion that "ArenaNet is being careful to include mastery points all over the current Guild Wars 2 landmass" and you have to wonder. There will be plenty of players for whom there remains pretty much nothing in the existing maps that they haven't already done.
Presuming the intent is not to bar such over-achievers from access to the Mastery system as it may exist outside of Heart of Thorns then O'Brien's claim that ""We're going to keep evolving the world, and we intentionally picked a strategy where it's not leaving behind a wasteland"" becomes pregnant with potential. But then, aren't they all?