[GW2] Maguuma Wastes Review

Season 2 of Guild Wars 2 finally feels expansion-y enough to talk about in a way where I can review it beyond “this update is cool or bad”. It’s strong enough to see a trajectory in design by ArenaNet. The storytelling is different. The goals are different. And biggest and most noticeable of all, we have new zones. We have zones which feel as important as the core zones, excluding Southsun Cove. That is what I want to review.

Southsun Cove

First, I have to briefly touch on Southsun Cove, which is the only other permanent zone added to Guild Wars 2. It was added in Guild Wars 2 infancy, just a few months after release. Like Orr, it contained no hearts. Unlike Orr, Southsun didn’t even really have a meta-event. Orr at least had this big sweeping meta-event to control the god statues and assault the heart of Orr. Later on, ArenaNet rectified Southsun Cove by adding a timed meta-event to draw out and kill the Karka Queen.

Apart from karka shells, and the occasional world boss party raid on the Karka Queen, there is no reason to be at Southsun Cove. It’s not really a solo friendly place, and without a group there circling around and bringing freedom to the island (by karka genocide), it’s just not fun.

The leveling zones have finite content in terms of hearts (and some have other things like Tequatl). The end game zone at launch had the meta-event leading to a culmination in victory and rewards. Southsun had neither, and I feel nowadays if it sank back in to the waves, I wouldn’t care.

Reason for Existence

There has to be a reason for end game existence of a zone. The easiest thing, and most horrible in terms of use of ArenaNet dev time, is to add hearts. I know this, but I still miss doing hearts. The “do something” mechanic has been mostly cannibalized by achievements. It works mostly the same way. Kill a legendary for the achievement is to doing an event in a heart zone while I need heart juice. After that, I can decide whether I want to kill the legendary or do the event without a carrot waving on that string.

The other thing that ArenaNet could do… did do… was to take a look at the Orr design and make the whole zone (or region possibly) have a growing reason to play there.

Dry Top Meta

Dry Top was the first great post-launch zone implementation in Guild Wars 2. There was a wave of calm and frenzy. There was knowledge in how to go about things. There was a melody in player movements. I consider it a triumph in zone design.

To reiterate how it works, in the first 40 minutes of the hour the zone is building towards sandstorm. During that time players can complete events to increase Zephyrite faction love. More love equals better, cheaper rewards from Zephyrite merchants. The currency of the zone is geodes, which is gained most efficiently through doing events.

Then during the last 20 minutes of the hour, the sandstorm comes. Depending on the Zephyrite love level, more boss events will spawn. The events that happen during the last 40 minutes gives vastly increased geode rewards. The zone then reboots on the hour, and things start off again.

The most important thing here is that ArenaNet allowed players to master the zone. Expert players could farm a plethora of events in efficient fashion. Yet, zerging around one commander was a bad move because that meant that events would complete more slowly leading to less Zephyrite favor. I became so attuned to the zone that I could feel this song, this melody, of player action throughout the zone.

There are two problems though. Dry Top gave no downtime, except for maybe the last three minutes of an hour when there was no way to complete any further events. Once the zone reset at the top of the hour, events had to be completed for Zephyrite favor tiers would be out of reach for the entire hour. The second was that there was pretty much no randomness to the zone. It was a clockwork apart from a few small boss events. Farming the hour over and over became to feel grindy.

Silverwastes Meta

The next zone to release was the Silverwastes. The hashtag description of the zone is “WvW vs. Mordrem”. It is a warzone where players fight against the Elder Plant Dragon’s army for control of the canyon ruins. A supply of pack bulls brings resources to each forward base to increase the fortress defenses (and sometimes doors). Bases and pack bulls can be destroyed by the mordrem forces.

Like Zephyrite favor in Dry Top, Pact Assault Preparations have a bar which rises based on player activity. Only in this case, the bar rises when fortresses are successfully defended. There is no hourly set to it, although it seems like the bar gets to the top in 30-40 minutes in a good map. When the bar fills, there is a Breach meta-event to kill 5 bosses scattered beneath the four fortresses. Finally, there is a bonus event below the map where players became like Pacman trying to run through a labyrinth for treasure while avoiding unkillable Lurchers that kill players in a single hit. A whole cycle lasts a good hour or so.

The Silverwastes fixes both of Dry Top’s problems. There is no hourly cycle of events. Fortresses can fall. Player population can skew too hard to various fortresses. The whole meta-event feels much more organic and less farm-y. Then, when the map resets to start Pact Preparations again, there is no rush to get out there. The beginning of the map is going to be slow as players check their loot bags and then start piling up to reclaim the fortresses.

The “problem” with the Silverwastes is the map’s intensity. It is a hard map to survive on. It is easy to die. It is easy to lose a lot of meta-event progress. It is easy to feel like the whole map is ignoring my pleas for help when I am valiantly trying to protect a far flung fortress all by my lonesome. I feel ArenaNet might be fixing a large part of the inflation problem just by having waypoint costs in the Silverwastes. The problem would have been fixed (amidst players’ tears of salt) if there were repair costs still.

Personally, I love it. I love the difficulty. I love the feeling of being overwhelmed and sometimes surviving. I love how there is always that feeling of the cavalry coming to save the day just around the corner. Plus air strikes are one of the greatest things in Guild Wars 2. The loot feels like it is equally rewarding.

Reward Tiers

The devs have also done a great job designing rewards associated with both of these zones. There seems to be many tiers of reward. Players looking to just pop in and get the gist of the zone can get skill points and a few goodies. Then it goes upward from there to include whole armor sets and weapon sets, which are the ultimate in work and reward.

The Dry Top ultimate reward is the Ambrite Weapons set. This is an RNG-based reward system where players buy Zephyrite keys with geodes (the zone’s currency) and open chests only during the Sandstorm phase of the zone. I have played well over 20 hours in Dry Top, and I’ve received 5 of 16 fossilized insect pieces for the complete set.

The Silverwastes ultimate reward is an early adopter-RNG, late-adopter time reward system, which is really interesting (I hope they consider a late-adopter one for Dry Top). To unlock the Luminescent Armor Skins players need believably 6 sets of 4 Breach boss organs (the last piece the chest has not been released yet, but it is imagined it will follow suit). Players have to use Mordrem dissection devices to extract a single organ from each boss. Thankfully it is win or lose the boss event. Each boss has 6 organs (plus another for the chest?), and the RNG is thus that if I need a spleen from the red boss, I might get a tendon three times in a row.

Now, a late adopter can pay more Bandit Crests (the zone currency) to get a specific organ extraction device. Currently, there are only two available (tendon and fang). This removes the RNG, but ArenaNet doesn’t add them in until later on down the road. Personally, I think this system is genius, and I hope that one appears in Dry Top too.

I will touch on the problem of zone-wide currencies. I feel the system would not be as good without them. If I could simply use gold to buy off any of the rewards, it would simply not be as fun. Then instead of playing that zone I would be playing for gold. However, all the currencies and keys and piles of sand take inventory space. I’d rather they be elsewhere. ArenaNet agrees, at least in part.

A Reason to Be

What I like most about these new zones is that both feel like there is a reason to be in the zone. It’s not just a place for quests. There is a whole zone-wide party going on. I know what it will be like when I enter Dry Top. I know the intensity level of play required when I enter the Silverwastes. ArenaNet sets expectations and adds limitless activity (especially with the mega-server) to each zone.

I hope ArenaNet continues with this design trend of asking “why does this zone exist?” and then providing a clear answer. More and more, I feel ArenaNet is finding their legs with the game. Things don’t feel freshman or sophomore anymore. They feel refined.

–Ravious

8 thoughts on “[GW2] Maguuma Wastes Review”

  1. Dry Top and Silverwastes are far too video-gamey for my tastes. They both play very similarly to PvE versions of what in other MMOs would be Battlegrounds or Warfronts. They feel like instances with the same clearly-defined set of goals and outcomes common to instanced play.

    With the exception of the new jumping puzzle area (which not coincidentally has little if any combat or event play) there really is no reason to be in either Dry Top or Silverwastes if you aren’t working on the events to get the rewards. That isn’t true of any of the original game maps – not even Orr.

    As it was in Orr before they changed it due to the endless complaints, mob density in the new areas is overcooked. There is little opportunity to roam at leisure and enjoy the scenery, which is a shame because, while bleak and austere, there is some beauty there. Even so, compared to most other maps, there is very, very little to see. Even if the events were toned down and the mobs thinned out I can’t imagine spending hundreds of hours in Dry Top and Silverwastes the way I have in the Charr lands or the Shiverpeaks.

    Overall I’m more annoyed than disappointed. I agree that what they have set out to do they have done well. The problem from my point of view is that it moves the game in a direction I find a lot less interesting. If GW2 was in beta now and offering a world with this gameplay I would already have struck it off my “will play” list.

    I dread the thought of a whole expansion using these mechanics. I just want more of what we got at launch.

  2. “I dread the thought of a whole expansion using these mechanics.”

    That seems unlikely.

    The Living Story format means that they’re trying to get as much mileage out of each zone as possible, to keep players engaged until the next cool thing comes barreling down the pike two weeks later. That means, as you put it, more “video-gamey” content; things that are repeatable indefinitely and scratch the addictive “one more time” itch. The only way they could be less obvious about throwing a full-fledged version of a classic arcade game in is by adding an actual “high score” tracker to the Tangled Labyrinth to show how many pods you’ve looted without being killed… which I would actually love to see happen. All of the things that make the launch zones fun (exploration, diversity of play, underlying narrative) simply don’t have legs long enough to sustain the content-devouring masses the Living Story aims to engage on a bi-weekly basis.

    (I suppose it is worth noting at this point that even with the considerable success of Drytop and The Silverwastes, there’s STILL a persistent subcurrent of whiny, entitled comments demanding more more more now now now. Thankfully, the reception has been mostly positive, leaving no cracks for the vocal minority to bubble up through and upset the landscape.)

    When an expansion arrives (as it seems pretty clear that it is no longer a case of “if”), the goal simply isn’t going to be the same as the Living Story. Keeping players enthralled with smaller bites of content with a strong flavor will give way to the Thanksgiving spread; more than you can healthily consume in a sitting, with the elaborate trimming, special dishes and all the fixin’s. Expansions are a huge feast you look forward to, while the Living Story are tasty, satisfying bites that sustain.

    That last point is the important one; sustainability. Guild Wars 2’s business model depends on keeping players engaged so they’re more likely to buy items from the gem store. They cannot afford the massive bleed-off that occurs during content droughts. Thus, the Living Story serves to keep the population stable and the game profitable long enough to have expansions in the first place. We know from interviews that the original Guild Wars’ model of yearly campaigns wasn’t working for them. Two years in it seems GW2’s approach is doing the job nicely.

  3. Anet is finding their legs with this game. However, I feel like they are going in the wrong direction with it. While I only log in intermittently, GW2 feels more and more gamey. Honestly, I don’t even consider GW2 an MMO anymore. The content now seems structured around farming and achievements. GW2 is a pretty game and has sound mechanics but at the same time feels sterile, dull and empty. To illustrate what I mean, I will compare it to FFXIV (my main MMO).

    GW2 is superior to FFXIV in terms of mechanics and network architecture but FFXIV is infinitely more enjoyable. The main reason is because it has real content and Square takes a more system oriented approach to their game design. Anet is more interested in refining their achievement and dynamic event farming system. The gamey aspects of GW2. Although FFXIV is less explorable than GW2, it feels much more immersive and has more depth in its content. It is still the same grind like every other themepark but Square made the effort to try and integrate into a world. Anet seems to be focused on removing all pretense of a world from their game.

    I guess I am not seeing Anet build upon existing systems to create similar depth. One example: mounts/pets. Chocobos have evolved from mounts to fighting companions in FFXIV with a whole system surrounding that. Anet has done nothing since launch on fleshing out their own pet mechanism with the ranger. Dungeons: nothing. Crafting: mediocre and irrelevant. Crafting can be a full time job in FFXIV; GW2 – yawn/snore. WvW – still the same gameplay from launch. Maybe these are plans for the expansion.

    Despite my concerns, the approach seems to be working as they are still one of the top three themeparks out there. It just means I am not the target audience.

    1. I haven’t played FFXIV so I have no concept of the game. I don’t understand “real content” and how events are not it. I can just as easily say killing ten rats from whatever quest is not real content.

      I guess I need more context to understand.

      1. I suppose real content was a bit harsh but the rest of my post holds. Also, I never said events were not real content. I find it difficult to describe but I will give it another shot. In summary, I mean that Anet so far have been primarily focused on tweaking their achievement and reward systems and events. The events themselves rinse and repeat so often that it feels like less of a world than a videogame. I think it is this noticeable because the main source of content in the zone is just these events. GW2 at launch had a wide variety of activities but their development efforts seem to be focused mainly on structured event style content from what I can see. No dungeons, no refinement of non-combat systems. They made some minor tweaks to WvW but that in itself is a battleground style structure. While the art design is still top notch, the world itself leaves me cold as a result. It feels shallow.

    2. +1!!!!
      GW2 has become something me and my friends call “let’s Wii”. On most parties that we have (in home, pubs are not included XD) there is a certain moment when we are drunk&bored enough to look for silly and easy party lifter and at the same time we are not drunk&bored enough to just go bonkers. That’s the perfect moment for Wii/Kinect or some tabletop board game. Usually we have a lot of fun by playing with game… not playing *the* game but *with* game – no immersion, no regard to developers hard work – nope. Nothing. We use gaming as an activity to build jokes around and on top of it. Wii is perfect for that (Kinect brought too many black eyes XD ).
      And that’s what I feel when I try to come back to GW2. The game has everything to be really immerse MMO-“RPG” (anyone still remebers “we will put back RPG into MMORPG”?). But seems so superficial to me, that it hurts. It hurts for all those years I’ve spend in GW1 and for all the time GW2 was my main game to play.
      I’ve switched titles along the way ofc. Now I consider TSW to be my main (but not only) and while it’s complitly different kind of MMO exipirience, with it own flaws and weakneses, it still hurts me bad to see what is happening to GW2.
      All the highlight and joys of Anet product seems… queer. It’s always matter of opinion, always judging by onself. And judging by myslef – the only reason I would be interested/concerned by what Anet is delivering with updates (Living Story) would be because there is literally nothing else happening in game and nothing else to look foreward to.

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