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.
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
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.
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.
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.