Tequila the Sunrise. Taco the Soft Shell. Loot Piñata.
At the very least, poor Tequatl the Sunless will hopefully be shedding the last nickname with the upcoming Tequatl Rising content patch for Guild Wars 2. That one's kind of mean; the others are just affectionate. You know, as affectionate as we can be toward an undead servant of Zhaitan bent on subjugating all life.
ArenaNet previewed the new and improved Tequatl fight mechanics at PAX Prime, but apart from that (and the new LFG tool and the new World vs. World mechanics), this latest GW2 release seems a little bit...quiet. I'm OK with that. In fact, it may be exactly what we need.
ArenaNet has been up front about the fact that this year's parade of festivals isn't really indicative of how it wants the living story to proceed and that the party-hearty release lineup has mostly been the result of trying to get the basic framework -- environments, game mechanics and the bulk of art assets -- squared away for reoccurring content so that it can be expanded on instead of needing to be created from scratch. We're just exiting the "from scratch" stage now and entering the era of permanent content through living story updates. This is progress.
That said, I will actually be relieved if we don't see much of that reoccurring content for a good long while. I've never been the biggest fan of in-game festivals; I'm also a giant Scrooge in real life. If it's not Halloween, get it outta my face. And while there are plenty of examples of planned reoccurring content that don't really fit the "holiday" mold -- Super Adventure Box and the Zephyr Sanctum, for example, both of which I love -- I've come to a sobering realization: I'm so burned out on special events that I'm almost not excited about Halloween. Shadow of the Mad King is still my favorite GW2 content update, and not just because I'm the kind of guy who keeps cheap plastic spiders, pumpkins, and skulls in his real world kitchen all year long. Spooky season is coming up fast, and I should be cackling like a murderous ghost and getting ready to inflict my Halloween-themed Sylvari Warrior on Tyria. Instead I'm all grumbly and cynical about it, which is something that should only happen during holidays from November 1st onward.
This isn't something I blame ANet for, but it does make me glad that we're getting a little bit of happy fun downtime before Mad King Thorn makes his inevitable return. The thrust of the two-week update cycle is that novelty is good; players like to be thrilled on a regular basis, and when we're thrilled, we log in and play more. A constant stream of novelty runs the risk of seeming not-so-novel after a while, though, and so it's nice to see the first step toward permanence taken with long-awaited features and existing gameplay mechanics that have wanted some polish since launch. At the risk of sounding as if I'm on a continuous content loop myself, I still believe that the real promise of the living story lies in the ability to treat the game holistically and allow for improvements to stuff that other games might abandon in favor of new doodads -- even if abandoning that stuff means that it remains kind of broken forever.
A not-so-threatening threat
World bosses in GW2 have long fallen under the "stuff that's kind of broken" header. Visually, they're awesome. Mechanically, the majority of them are sacks of HP we gather around and auto-poke until they yield up their loot chests. ArenaNet tried to make up for the underwhelming threat to public safety the bosses represented by giving them better and more reliable shiny bits to distribute to the people who wanted to poke them, and this resulted in lots more people deciding to make a career out of world boss poking. Unfortunately, having overflow-creating numbers of players at a world boss further highlights how undemanding most of them are, as with enough people it's possible to simply murderize them in a matter of seconds without bothering with crazy things like strategy.
Tequatl isn't the only world boss getting a fresh coat of mean in this week's release; according to the official site, all of the bosses have seen an update. That's hopefully going to be great fun, but until the release goes live I honestly have no idea how the playerbase will react. A popular farming strategy at the moment is to join up with a massive group of other players and hit all of the champion enemies in an area, proceeding in a specific order to maximize downtime between respawns. This has caused a number of issues in the community -- people who have no idea what a "farming meta" is getting screamed at for interrupting the loot train, for instance -- but it also highlights one of the major problems with risk vs. reward in GW2. MMO players will almost always follow the path of least resistance to rewards as long as it's open to them, but many attempts to make things harder and more fun in GW2 -- such as the dungeon revamps earlier this year -- have instead resulted in players finding them more annoying. The most well-received boss encounters seem to be those that place pressure on players rather than making the monsters harder to whittle down; Aetherblade Retreat did a pretty good job of this, with encounters that made it difficult if not impossible to rush the bosses while ignoring the mechanics. The amount of pressure on players also rewarded wearing a bit of defensive gear instead of running full Berserker stats, which is a good thing for build diversity.
From what we've seen of the new Tequatl mechanics, it seems like that's the approach ArenaNet is going for, but I'd go so far as to say that dealing with boss mechanics needs to be an absolute condition for event success in order to get people to bother. If there's any way to just ignore them and burn the dragon down, I think people will try it -- but that may just be because I watched my server take Grenth's temple last night by repeatedly dying and running back from the waypoint just to avoid having to kill the shades. The crazy thing is, that worked. The massive numbers of shade adds that spawn in that event are meant to punish people for rushing the boss, but with enough players present, rushing the boss works just fine. Many existing open world boss fights -- and some instanced fights -- have mechanics that seem as if they shouldn't be optional but are. And if they're optional, chances are good that we'll take the option to ignore them.
So essentially, I hope Tequatl really kicks the skritt out of us before we dive headlong into his corpse to search it for Ascended weapon tokens. Well, not skritt, but this is a family site and my mom reads this column.
In other news
Character artist Kristen Perry is the wizard behind the current appearance of the Sylvari. If you weren't hanging around GW2 fandom pre-launch, suffice it to say that the Sylvari used to look very different from their current incarnation, and the art didn't quite match their lore. You can still see that interpretation of them in some of the older trailers -- they were cute, but they looked like Bratz dolls with leaf hair. Perry took them back to the drawing board and brought us the awesome plant people we know today.
A few months ago, Perry showed up in the official Sylvari subforum to discuss Sylvari design and to ask players to throw around some things they'd like to see in future hairstyles. People responded with suggestions, critique and even beautiful sketches. One of the most popular requests was long hair for male Sylvari, as well as more cross-gender styles and new faces. On Friday, Perry showed off a brand-new Sylvari hairstyle: long, available to both genders, and modeled on a male character. She also previewed a new face, which has features that bring to mind a tree with smooth, peeling bark. While we weren't told when we'll be getting the new style, tertiary NPCs with new hairstyles have been cropping up for a while now, so it's likely that a future update will bring more options for several races.
If you missed it, the recording of Perry's livestream is definitely worth a watch if you're at all interested in digital art, character design, or the process ArenaNet uses to create character models and customization options. Perry discusses the whole procedure, from initial sketching to sculpting to all the considerations necessary to get the hair and face into the game in a good-looking, color-customizable form!
I know I should probably have a lot to say about the World vs. World updates and the LFG tool, but those are two things I don't think I can form much of an opinion on until I've gotten my hands on them. What are you looking forward to most in this patch? Are you ready to kick Tequatl's stupid face in, or are you taking the opportunity to kick back until the next Scarlet-based crisis? Let us know in the comments below, and I'll see you in the (upgraded) Mists!
Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's weekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at firstname.lastname@example.org. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.