Conflicted feelings for GuildWars2.
ArenaNet’s MMO is calming within; troubled without.
the solo story boss fights devolve into frustration
It was while writing the PC Gamer Top 100 that I remembered: “Oh yeah, Guild Wars 2!”
I’ve been off-again, on-again with ArenaNet’s MMO for years, and haven’t returned since the release of last year’s expansion, Path of
Fire. Since then, three episodes of the new chapter of its ongoing ‘Living World’ story have been released, adding new zones, new storylines and a new mount: the Roller Beetle.
The day before I return, though, ArenaNet announced it had fired two of its developers, with president Mike O’Brien citing, in a statement on the game’s forums, “attacks on the community” as the reason. The reality is less clear cut.
Narrative designer Jessica Price responded negatively to a Guild Wars 2 partnered streamer who tweeted at her with suggestions for how to improve the game. Price later told Kotaku, “I was so tired of having random people explain my job to me in company spaces where I had to just smile and nod that it was like, ‘No. Not here. Not in my space.’” Writer Peter Fries, who tweeted in his colleague’s defence, was also fired.
This is a very basic retelling of an event with far more at its root; one that has become the latest battleground in an intractable and depressing culture war. For my part, I don’t think ArenaNet should have fired Price or Fries. It feels like a dangerous overreaction – one that ignores a lot of context about the everyday harassment faced by women in the games industry online.
When I log into Lion’s Arch
– Guild Wars 2’ s main city – the day after the firings, I’m expecting it to be a major topic of conversation. But no. Map chat is, as is often the case, mostly silent. I head into the first of the three new zones added across the last three chapters. Here things are more active, but only because a meta event is about to start and people want to know if there’s anyone with a Commander tag to help lead the map.
I join in. These map-wide meta events are one of my favourite things about Guild Wars 2. It’s all the fun of cooperating with people, but with none of the social anxiety of having to disappoint them because you don’t yet know how it works. Each of the new maps has its own meta events – often triggering at set intervals every hour or two – but the assault on Palawadan in the Domain of Istan proves to be the most enjoyable of the bunch.
Every couple of hours, players can fight their way in to an otherwise inaccessible area of the map. The resulting fight is lengthy and filled with lots of hard-hitting bosses with some interesting quirks. Fortunately, the rewards are good enough that the event is usually well populated – something other, older maps can struggle with.
The plot thickens
The Living World’s story often suffers with the power of its protagonist – they’ve killed multiple dragons and even a god – so it can be hard to raise the stakes sufficiently. But undead season antagonist Palawa Joko at least proves an entertaining, scenery-chewing foil. The Living World’s story is a mostly enjoyable series of quests, with plenty of variety in its mission design, but one prone to difficulty spikes. Perhaps it’s my fault for playing one of the game’s squishiest characters, but the solo story boss fights devolve into frustration. Maybe it’s just me, but respawning my way to victory doesn’t seem very heroic.
Still, my time with Guild Wars 2 is largely enjoyable – some bullshit story encounters aside. But then I leave the game and its helpful, friendly players, and return to the threads full of vitriol towards Jessica Price on the subreddit and in the forums. I notice the Twitter arguments between developers defending their right to speak freely on social media, and those who think they should be a 24/7 customer service resource – always polite, responsive and available. One of the things I used to value about Guild Wars 2 was how uncomplicated my relationship with it was. I’m not sure that’s the case any more.