November sucks. The only good things about it are food, my wife's birthday, and the birthdays of any other November babies (happy birthday). Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is at the end of the month, and Black Friday is a thing that still happens. Thank the Six it's December now. Get out of my face, November.
We've had only two Novembers' worth of Guild Wars 2 so far, but historically it has been a dark time. Last year we had mixed reception of the Lost Shores karka invasion event and the implementation of Ascended gear. This year we have a baffling marketing campaign and extremely unfortunate gem store armor skins. At this rate I'm predicting that next November will bring an entire set of novelty weapon skins patterned on Scarlet Briar's hair and a kissing booth that awards precursors with Zhaitan's ugly mug as the main attraction.
The most controversial part of the Fractured update was probably the new set of gem store armor, which is understandable because it's one of the most ill-advised moves I've ever seen ArenaNet make in GW2. There are several things wrong here, so let's run down the list: They're all identical to existing armor but with added flame particle effects. The medium and heavy versions are reskins of World vs. World badge armor and a common level 20-ish heart vendor set respectively, while the light version is human Tier 3 cultural armor -- one of the most expensive armors in the game -- only with particle effects and the ability to be worn by any race. And it's fiery, even though we already have three armor sets, four different weapon sets, four unique Exotic weapons and three Legendary weapons covered in orange flames. When we finally arrive at the lair of Primordus, the sight of our characters is going to make him burst into tears due to intense feelings of inadequacy.
I'm actually in favor of cultural armor being able to be worn cross-race, since in my opinion it's more desirable to increase the variety of armor combinations available than to maintain distinctive looks between races. I understand that I'm probably in the minority, and it wasn't surprising to see quite a few human scholars angry that their armor had become the sole cultural set accessible to everyone. This was especially confusing because ArenaNet took steps after launch to fix any loopholes that allowed players to even preview unwearable armor -- it took requests from the players to get back features like the ability to preview armor sets of different weights regardless of profession, but previewing or transmuting cultural armor and certain unreleased town clothing items across races used to result (hilariously) in a nude, anatomically incomplete character model.
Aside from racial distinctiveness, cultural armor -- and particularly T3 -- is widely viewed as a prestige item. That's the sole justification for its high cost, which is 119 gold, and it's one of the things that's supposed to represent a long-term goal in GW2's cosmetic-based progression. Yes, you can convert gems to gold and buy it outright, but the price of doing so would be much higher than the 10 U.S. smackeroos the Flamekissed armor set costs. Slapping shinier effects on that sort of thing and offering it in the cash shop for the cost of an iced coffee and gyro is the kind of thing people snarl about when they discuss the stigma against free-to-play games. One player sarcastically quipped on Reddit that he couldn't wait to see a "flame kissed" version of his Sunrise in the gem store, but if ArenaNet hadn't made the decision to remove the light version of the armor and redesign it, that would have been a fair point to consider.
As it stands, ANet did respond and remove the armor, with the promise that people who end up unhappy with the future redesign will get a full refund. I'm both surprised and pleased, and it makes me feel a lot better about the whole thing. It doesn't solve the broader issue, though, which is that ArenaNet is charging 800 gems for putting flame effects on existing armors and calling it a day. I've side-eyed some of the gem store armor and weapons before -- particularly the ones that look as though most of the work went into one gender's version -- but I've also dropped real money on quite a few of them. I'm extremely disappointed in these, and I think they all deserve a redesign. If they were intended to be unique armor sets made using only the mesh of the original sets, there was a real communication breakdown during the creation and implementation because these sets are identical to the originals aside from the flame effects, right down to the rugged rawhide stitching on the leather pants.
Letting us dye the flames would be a good start. I don't want to upset Primordus any further, but orange is so 2013.
The great MMO... something
I have a lot of feelings about Our Time is Now, the official GW2 launch trailer. None of those feelings is very positive, aside from thinking that the direction and cinematography are nice. I don't know whom it was meant to appeal to, but apparently I was not the target audience; I'm aware that ArenaNet and NCsoft are companies, and that they are not doing me a favor -- or more laughably, striking a blow against oppression -- by having a slightly different payment model. I'm far more comfortable when marketing focuses on the game itself and encourages a respectful, mutually beneficial consumer/creator relationship between the players and the developers. It's wonderful that they believe in the buy-to-play model, and I believe in it too. Let's all hold hands and skip forward into exchanging money for goods and services, because that's what's happening.
The recent marketing campaign is everything I disliked about the launch trailer and then some. In the current industry climate, when many MMO fans are frustratedly searching for a gaming home, the concept of a deliberate "migration" to GW2 is ironically out-of-touch; instead of welcoming potential players with a warm invitation to the fantasy world of Tyria (as many of the beautiful trailers created by the ANet artists have done), this campaign again attempts to bring Tyria into the real world and market it not as an RPG but as a lifestyle statement. It chains the buy-to-play model to a goofy "oath to GW2" when the great selling point of B2P is the combination of subscription game stability with the low financial risk of free-to-play. Even as a joke, it sends the wrong message: We expect you to commit to and endorse our product. And even as a joke, that's an iffy way to present yourself to an increasingly wary and cynical consumer base that's just hoping to make a solid purchase and play a good game.
Not only is it a divisive stance to take (when plenty of gamers are tired of my-game-can-beat-up-your-game flame wars), but it says absolutely nothing about what GW2 is supposedly worth renouncing [adjective] games for beyond the payment model. And if that's the only thing to base a decision on, well... there are hundreds of games that don't require you to pay money at all.
I'm not going to discuss the dustup over the Thaumanova Reactor Fractal story; suffice it to say that the fandom has reached some kind of saturation point with a certain character, and while I don't agree with all of the complaints, it's understandable.
Unfortunately, there are more issues with the retuned Fractals of the Mists than just story controversy. The Mai Trin fight has been buggy for some people. The Underground Facility Fractal, which was already unpopular, had several loopholes fixed without also fixing the reasons players were using them in the first place. There was no waypoint in Thaumanova at release. Fractal weapon boxes were supposed to give players the opportunity to pick the skins they want, but as of this writing, the boxes reportedly aren't dropping.
It's probably difficult to get this stuff fixed in a timely manner because Thanksgiving is a holiday weekend in the U.S., and ArenaNet is made up of human beings like you who would like to relax for a bit and eat food with their families and all of that good stuff. I'm hoping that all of this is just pre-holiday, end-of-the-year hiccups; most of it is simply annoying and it isn't alarming people the way the Ascended controversy did. It still makes me want to hide with a mug of peppermint mocha and wait for Wintersday, when at least we'll have snowballs to throw.
In better news
One thing I did appreciate in this release was the Tower of Nightmares sticking around, which does make it feel more organic than if it had just up and disappeared with the current release. We still don't really know what will become of Kessex Hills once the bar completes, and that's cool. I'm also pretty excited about World XP becoming account bound, since having it character-specific makes it hard to decide whom to take into World vs. World regularly (and in a weird trick of the brain, that's resulted in my playing less WvW).
What's your take on all of this? Have you tried the updated Fractals? Do you think we have enough armor and weapons with lava on them to ward off the chill of winter? Is this really Scarlet Briar? Did you touch the DO NOT TOUCH towers even though you were clearly told not to touch? Let us know in the comments below, and I'll see you in the 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 email@example.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.