PAX Prime 2013 Guild Wars 2's anniversary bash
It seems that more and more studios at PAX are electing to avoid the convention hall altogether and go for off-site venues, especially when it comes to parties and fan events (I was told that even a small booth on the exhibit floor can cost a company $100,000). So while Guild Wars 2 was notably absent from the PAX Prime exhibit hall this year, it was quite a different story a few blocks away at the Renaissance Hotel in Seattle where ArenaNet set up camp for the title's anniversary bash. Players began lining up for the panels, playthroughs, and party hours in advance, all sharing the same glow of enthusiasm for the game they've enjoyed over the past year.

By all accounts (I wasn't there a year ago), the launch party for Guild Wars 2 at last year's PAX was far more insane. Yet I think that this year there was a better feel to it. It wasn't about hype and anticipation for the fans but about experience and shared affection for the title they'd been enjoying since last August.

So join me as I recap the anniversary bash, step by step, and perhaps we'll learn a thing or two about where this game is going in the near future.

PAX Prime 2013 Guild Wars 2's anniversary bash
Opening keynote

ArenaNet President Mike O'Brien was on hand to warm up the crowd with the new anniversary video and a pep talk to the crowd of 400 or so fans. "Tyria is your world," he began, "and we're doing this for you."

O'Brien hit on what seemed to be ArenaNet's big talking points for the convention: The team wants players to be able to shape the future and have a noticeable impact on the game and its world. He also said that anyone who's a fan of Guild Wars 2 already has a friend at ArenaNet and encouraged fans to meet the devs later on to talk.

PAX Prime 2013 Guild Wars 2's anniversary bash
He wrapped his presentation up with the two big reveals of the show: the return of Super Adventure Box for next week and the Tequatl 2.0 overhaul that's coming on September 17th. Of course, the applause for these announcements was far eclipsed by the ovation when he casually let slip that the new looking for group interface would be coming on the 17th as well. It's easy to see where the real fan passion lies.

PAX Prime 2013 Guild Wars 2's anniversary bash
Tequatl 2.0

The crowd settled in for an extended preview of the new Tequatl encounter, first through a developer overview and then through three player-led sessions. The devs pointed out the new mechanics, such as the shock wave that had to be jumped or the vortex that can suck players far down into the murky mire. The encounter required a ton of coordination: Some players had to attack the dragon directly, some manned turrets that gave attacking players a huge helping hand, and some had to defend the turrets from adds assaulting them. If players weren't doing well, a giant bone wall popped out to protect Tequatl, and this had to be hacked down before the fight could proceed.

Pro-tip: Using the nearby jump pads to dodge the ever-growing shock waves is not only practical but wicked awesome as all get out.

The encounter had several stages, including one at 75% that involved protecting batteries so that a mega-cannon could fire and do some real damage to the beast. To make matters more stressful, the fight was on a timer. While none of the three groups on stage managed to bring the dragon down (even with a little developer "assistance"), the last group came within striking distance when the clock ran out.

PAX Prime 2013 Guild Wars 2's anniversary bash
Living world panel

Probably the most interesting part of the anniversary bash came when many of the dev leads from across the company lined up on stage for a Q&A panel on the living world and just about anything else that the fans wanted to ask. Chances are that if you had a pressing issue on your heart about Guild Wars 2, it was probably addressed during the panel.

For the interests of time and space, here were some of the salient details that I took away from the event:
  • Recalling the launch a year ago, a couple of the developers got choked up talking about how humbling and emotional it was to see players flood into the world they'd been creating for years.
  • It bears repeating (because ArenaNet loved repeating this) that the team really wants to push the scope and experience of the living story much further than it's already done.
  • Every part of the game, from audio to art to lore, is about immersing players into that world.
  • Some people have noticed that the cinematics have changed in recent updates, and this is because the team is still experimenting with the storytelling format and testing out different styles.
  • The living world team continues to fine-tune the sweet spot between resources, time, and the demands of the story.
  • Cranking up the pace of content updates from one per month to one every two weeks required a big, stressful transition this summer, but it's resulted in more players logging in and more hours played.
  • As the content teams leap-frog over each other for living world updates, clever players can spot little trademark styles (such as certain camera moves or in-jokes) that belong to a specific team.
  • If a feature or chunk of content is pulled from an upcoming content update due to testing issues or just not fitting, the team usually won't abandon it but instead will repurpose it for later.
  • The lore lead was tight-lipped on the future of the story, refusing to commit to Cantha or Elona (although ANet acknowledge that those places and their people still exist and have a place in the game) or specifics as to what will happen. However, there were vague hints dropped that we'll see new landmasses, character deaths, characters falling in love, family challenges, and a more stable group of characters through which to tell stories. The developers also haven't forgotten about the dragons.
  • The devs' favorite unintentional bug was the "airplane" glitch where players' arms got stuck out to the side so that when they ran around they looked like kids playing airplane.
  • One fan asked why the devs have limited variety in SPvP. While the devs said that they will be exploring other modes, they're trying to be cautious not to introduce so many modes that players get too spread out between them.
  • For those of you that noticed how there seems to be more gold and goodies dropping these days, it's a deliberate move by the team to boost the economy and reward players more appropriately for the effort they put in. The panel also noted that many of the drops from living world creatures are themed so as to reinforce the story even through loot.
  • The team will be addressing a bug where town clothes disappear as a character falls. And speaking of town clothes, the team is actively looking at town clothes to make them as useful as other systems.
  • A hilarious fan got up there and gave a majestic speech about the players behind him being the heroes of Tyria -- and asked why the devs seem more concerned about telling the stories of these NPC characters than of the heroes themselves. The team said that it's having internal discussions about this, but that there are strong challenges to making people feel like central heroes when there are so many of them. One of the solutions is to incorporate more choice into the game that has impact, such as the recent election.
  • A Charr player wanted to know when the team will fix the armor for the race. The devs said that because fewer people played Charr, fewer resources go to that race, but that they'll "do you justice" in the future.
  • There should be cool stuff coming up with the Sylvari in the living story during the next year.
  • Will there be improvements to the guild UI or any way for us to share our achievements with our guildies? No commitment from the panel other than saying that those were great suggestions.
At the party later that evening, players had the opportunity to mingle with the developers, share their favorite stories of Guild Wars 2 to a camera crew in exchange for a t-shirt, and spend some hands-on time with Super Adventure Box. It was a rollicking good time to see a developer die three times in rapid succession thanks to the new ultra-tough Tribulation mode -- and when you know the maker has a hard time, there's going to be very little help for you.

One year down, a lifetime to go. Guild Wars 2 is giving the impression that it's just started to explore the possibilities that are out there.

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 30th to September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2013. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!

This article was originally published on Massively.
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