Flameseeker Chronicles: A method to the madness

The June 2nd update is the talk of the Guild Wars playerbase this week -- especially on the PvP side of the community. It was certainly enough to pique my interest, even though my PvP project fell victim to a complete lack of free time this month. (Don't worry on that front, by the way -- I plan to pick it back up as soon as I return from E3.)

What really interested me about this update, however, is that it feels like such a response to feedback and the current vibe of the player community. Not that ArenaNet doesn't pay attention as a rule, but so many of the huge updates are focused on the Hall of Monuments and Guild Wars: Beyond in preparation for Guild Wars 2 that it's nice to see one that is all about Guild Wars 1 -- not to mention one that is a pure response to the state of the current game.

Follow along after the jump as I look at some of what stood out to me about this latest update!

Incentives ahoy!

What stands out to me about this update is that it's such an extensive response to the state of the game and the state of the community. When Zaishen Coins were introduced to the game as a non-tradeable item, it was with the goal of giving players a strong incentive to play together in areas that they maybe hadn't visited in quite a while.

I remember being very excited to see places like Aurora Glade suddenly packed with players. Everyone was clamoring to group with guildies, friends, or PUGs in order to get in on these new rewards. Min-maxers were stocking up on their storybooks, and equipment packs were the must-have accessory of the season.

As in any MMO, though, the Guild Wars community at large has a short attention span and/or accomplishes all the given goals pretty quickly. This isn't a bad thing -- it usually indicates a dedicated, involved community that accomplishes the new objectives at a rapid pace. It might mean more work for the devs as they continually work to keep everyone interested, but it's a hundred times better than an apathetic community that meets updates with a collective "meh."

At any rate, pretty soon, equipment packs weren't a huge deal because most people had them, and many of the other available items weren't considered as desirable because players could get a better deal on them from other players on the open market. Players might still be doing z-missions to gain equipment packs and such for their alts or to give title tracks a boost depending on the rewards, but as a whole, the Zaishen Challenge Missions weren't the big deal they once were.

This update was a response to that of sorts. Be they the core of the intent behind the update or a happy side effect, two things in particular have done a lot to revive interest in acquiring Zaishen Coins. The fact that they're tradeable is very interesting to players who might not care about obtaining the rewards from coins but who do care about the money the coins could bring them. The new envoy weapons make the coins even more valuable for those who love having cool new weapon skins. It was a pretty simple change on the face of it -- make the coins tradeable and add some new weapon skins -- but it did a lot to renew player interest, and I'm almost as excited to see how engaged players are as I was when the Zaishen Missions were originally introduced. (I kind of like that the envoy weapons cost skill points too -- is there a longtime player who doesn't have a glut of those things? Even if you make con sets regularly, it's nearly impossible to burn through all of them.)

That's not all that there is to the update by a long shot. The introduction of Imperial Faction solved a longstanding issue: horrendously long wait times in Alliance Battles, Jade Quarry, and Fort Aspenwood. If you've ever tried to go into one of those, particularly on the Kurzick side, you know exactly what I'm taking about. Your screen fills with the orange "no opposing party has joined" message for what feels like hours.

I used to sit back and read a book while waiting to enter AB, occasionally glancing at the screen to see if the timer had started yet. Sure, I could go over to the opposing side and get a team faster, but I was doing it for the same reason I'm sure every other player was: to buff up my Kurzick (or Luxon, depending) faction. Switching sides would completely defeat the purpose.

Enter Imperial Faction. You gain Imperial Faction the same way you do Kurzick or Luxon when fighting on the PvP side -- you'll just see a purple number pop up along with the red or blue as you fight. At the end, find the Imperial Faction NPC and convert the extra faction to whatever you like: Kurzick, Luxon, or Balthazar. You still get the regular faction you were getting before; this is essentially just a little faction buff.

This makes it easier to switch to Luxon or Kurzick and balance out as needed, but a quick round of AB showed me that it seems to have caused interest to spike as well. I'm sure a lot of it is thanks to the novelty of the thing, but I'd like to see it last for a fairly long time.

Sometimes less is more

This entire update wasn't about bringing more to the table -- one significant part of this patch actually throttled things back. When the Codex Arena was introduced, part of the setup is that the skill bars changed every eight hours. This certainly kept the element of surprise, but the change cycle was simply too fast. Players would just start getting used to a bar when it would be time to change, and some players missed out on certain cycles altogether because of time zones. ArenaNet scaled that change back to every 24 hours with this update, giving everyone much more time to experience the builds before they switch out.

What I like about this is that ArenaNet recognizes that the solution isn't always "give them more!" It's a simple change, but it speaks to a recognition of what's needed and a willingness to tweak things here and there as needed.

I know that not every player loves every aspect of this update; just as with any patch in any game, you've got players who love it, players who hate it, and players who are convinced they could have done it better. I think the Guild Wars devs get that they're never going to please everyone, so they focus on what is best for the game that they want to maintain. It's a given that they've got a clear idea of what that game is, but it's nice to see that player response and activity is such a big part of that vision.

Of course, this doesn't encompass the entire update, but it's an overview of some of the biggest things that caught my attention. There's more to talk about -- if only I had more room! Feel free to jump in with a comment and keep the discussion rolling! As you read this, I'm on my way to E3, where I will mourn the absence of Guild Wars 2 and anticipate coming home to dive back into PvP. I'll see you next week!

Rubi is a longtime Guild Wars player and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column keeps a close eye on all the events in Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. It's also the home of a weekly summary of the travels of [MVOP], Massively's Guild Wars guild. Email Rubi at rubi@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.