A Failure to Communicate: Saying Much and Telling Little

Note: This is the first exhaustive-style post I’ve had since January. It is not short (4800 words). A functional TL;DR, is present in the introduction, bolded statements throughout the post, and conclusion.

Communication is one of, if not the, most important facets of game development. Without it, developers are in the dark on what players want, and players aren’t sure who they should back with their money (either before or after release).

But communication is not simply talking. It requires understanding who is being communicated to, what needs to be said, and how it needs to be said. Failing any of these aspects often means the message is lost.

And based on the wild swings of opinion on both reddit and the forums (most easily seen by looking at discussions on both the expansion and the base game), communication isn’t really happening, especially at this critical time as the expansion seeks to reinvigorate the game.

Communication has not been an ArenaNet strong suit for quite some time. Rather than simply griping about the current policy, I am going to explore what it is and its full effects. And after framing that entire problem, I will provide a possible solution to put ArenaNet and the Guild Wars 2 community back in communication.

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That Good Ol’ Ball and Chain: The Ranger’s Pet

Pets and minions aren’t well-regarded by the player base. Rolling dice has more consistency than the AI that drives them. As a result, minion build effectiveness is either nonexistent due to glitches, or blatantly overpowered as a player does functionally nothing while reaping ridiculous reward*.

*This includes turret engineers in sPvP, with the note that turret AI is actually really good. Engie attacks target, turrets attack target if in range. So the random aspect doesn’t really exist.

Justifiably, most players avoid pets, minions, and anything else that relies on AI to be effective. Except, rangers can’t avoid their pets. Sticking one on passive is cutting out a lot of a ranger’s DPS out of the equation. And permanently stowing one in favor of a damage boost doesn’t exist.

I’m going to delve into the exact why’s for pets being so bad, and yet so unavoidable. Then I’ll look at a short list of solutions to make a pet a ranger’s best friend, rather than their worst burden.

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The Hard Reset: Embracing the Expansion’s Shakeup

As any person on the hype train (or within a hundred mile radius of it) will tell you, Heart of Thorns is on the way. It’s the first expansion, bringing new features, new areas, and new reasons to hate sylvari who take over the plotline*.

*Achievement Unlocked: Outdoing Trahearne at his own game. That’s like 50,000 AP right there. I think Mordremoth already won…

But Heart of Thorns is more than simply an expansion with new features. In interview after interview, ArenaNet keeps stating that its entire purpose is to build a new foundation to keep building upon going forward.*

*Thanks Standard PR Speak for making me always hate using those two words, even if they’re the right ones to use.

And changing a game’s foundation is going to cause a lot of shakeup. Consider the large amount of open-world changes following World of Warcraft‘s Cataclysm expansion, or the wholesale reboot of Final Fantasy XIV, or the myriad changes that accompany a game going from subscription to free-to-play (e.g., Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic).

With massive shakeups come just as large opportunities to “question everything” once again, to see how to one-up Guild Wars 2 at its own game. The existing feature list already does this, as I will show, but I also see the opportunity to change even more to bring Guild Wars 2 closer to its design ideals.

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Unforgettable to Ignorable: Elite Skills in Guild Wars 2

NOTE: The following post is about builds, and applies to all modes of Guild Wars 2 (and Guild Wars). It draws examples from all modes of the games as well.

Elite skills hold an odd niche in Guild Wars 2. On the one hand, they have the longest cooldowns of any skill on the bar, with a few rare exceptions*. On the other, combat is so skill use-heavy that often elites need to be saved for “the right moment.” And oftentimes, “the right moment” never happens.

*Basilisk Venom, Renewed Focus come to mind as short cooldown elites.

This is a lot different from the cherished role they used to hold in Guild Wars. Not using an elite during an encounter in any part of the original game was like fighting with one arm tied behind one’s back.

So why the shift? What happened to elites, and why can players simply forget to use them and not notice the difference? And is there any hope for making elites feel elite without shoving them into the realm of hopelessly overpowered?

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Waiting for More: Queues and Matchmaking

I’m welcoming Poliator back to the blog with another take on sPvP.

This past December, the queues and matchmaking systems changed substantially. Solo Arena and Team Arena, both with their own leaderboard, got replaced by Unranked Arena and Ranked Arena. And only Ranked Arena kept a leaderboard.

This change caused a large discussion within the Guild Wars 2 Community because in addition to the removal of Solo Arena, a debate about the new matchmaking, to include the PUGs versus Premade issue, took front and center.

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