Flameseeker Chronicles: Customization and playing together in Guild Wars 2's feature pack

Plush bobblegriffon!
As of last week, ArenaNet has revealed all of the major features Guild Wars 2 players can expect to see in April 15th's highly anticipated feature pack. When I say "highly anticipated," I mean that a large part of the playerbase is collectively vibrating and may soon gain enough momentum to will April 15th into arriving immediately. If they don't manage it, at least we've only got a week to wait.

Until then, we've got plenty of GW2 discussion to tide us over. Most of the feature pack announcements have been well-received, and there's a lot to look forward to, but I still have a few minor nits to pick. Blame it on nits being easier to find when everyone's head is 200% bigger.

Good night, sweet hoodie.
I'm a hoodie in a bottle, baby

I've never gotten much use out of town clothes in their current form, which is a shame considering how many of them I've bought (oops). Sometimes I slip them on for screenshots or for mapping cities, but in the latter case it was always annoying to be reminded how fragile the illusion of wearing clothes was when I could step down from a ledge a wee bit too hard or fall into a puddle and swap back to armor. And just about everyone who's heard me talk about GW2 for more than five minutes has heard me grouse about not being able to wear my Necromancer's reading glasses in combat. If nothing else is ever changed about the way the new wardrobe system is planned to work, I'll consider it a net gain both as a roleplayer and as a person who likes playing internet dress up.

That aside, there are a few details I think could be better. Unless you've been following every part of the conversation, it's easy to miss what exactly ArenaNet plans to do with town clothes you've possibly paid real money for and whether or not they'll even be something you want to keep after the patch, so I'm going to break it down one piece at a time.

Possibly the most perplexing part of the town clothes update is ArenaNet's plan to turn some retired town clothes pieces into tonics. The clothing this applies to might not even be remembered very well by most players because they were removed from the gem store months ago: Certain fancy shirts, hoodies, cargo shorts, and "riding" equipment fall into this category, as do the special promotional dragon emblem t-shirt. As tonics, they cannot be dyed or used in combat.

Outfits -- as defined by the original wardrobe blog post and further clarification by developer Curtis Johnson -- are one-piece overlays that will not cost charges to equip, can be dyed, can be worn in combat, and will respect the head slot toggle. This category encompasses most of the town clothes sets we have now, including holiday costumes and the pirate captain's outfit. These sets are losing functionality only insofar as some of them were made up of separate pieces that could be mixed with other sets; the Wintersday set, for instance, will become a one-piece item similar to the Bloody Prince outfit.

Last but not least, we've been told that many individual pieces -- mostly head slot items, from the looks of it -- will be converted to and unlocked as universal armor items.

So we have three different categories town clothes are being shuffled into. Two of those categories arguably make sense, as the head slot is a good place to put universal armor items and having an overlay for outfits is pretty cool. It also makes sense that town clothes can't simply be converted to armor skins across the board, necessitating an alternate solution. I wrote up a post speculating on why it wouldn't be a simple conversion, and Johnson confirmed that it was basically the right idea; the short version is that the underlying framework of every armor weight is different. It's the reason a medium armor trenchcoat is one piece, while a light Heritage Greatcoat consists of a top and a bottom half that form the illusion of a coat (and both of which look silly when mixed with other armor pieces, but that's another gripe altogether).

According to Johnson, town clothes in their current form essentially count as a fourth armor weight class. Like other armor classes, they cannot be mixed and matched with others without causing problems -- and yes, I remember enjoying the brief period of time when we were able to preview mixed armor weights through the sPvP locker, but I also remember that while it worked sometimes, it also occasionally resulted in really bizarre graphical glitches that went far beyond clipping issues. Experience has taught me as a non-programmer that it's not safe to assume anything is easy to fix no matter how simple it might look, so while it's disappointing to see the mix-and-match functionality taken away it's probably still a reasonable solution.

Floating on that tonic

With all of the information laid out, the system's introduction still looks a lot more convoluted than it ought to be -- and most of that comes back to the clothing tonics. They seem to be a compromise to avoid removing those pieces entirely, since they really have no place in the upcoming system. However, Johnson has clarified that the clothing tonics will work by creating a full outfit on your character; in other words, you won't pop a Potion of Endless Hoodie (probably not the actual name) and find yourself running around with no pants on. With this in mind, there appears to be no particular reason for these items to be tonics instead of outfits. If putting on a tonic hoodie is going to also give us pants and shoes and all of that anyway, why not let us keep them in a form that can be dyed and worn in combat and doesn't take up inventory slots?

Despite the quirks, I'm very excited for the new system. I think it'll give both ArenaNet's designers and players more freedom, and I'm looking forward to letting my Halloween-themed Warrior run around with her bat greatsword in the Bloody Prince costume while my poor Necromancer rejoices at finally being able to see clearly. They'll also be able to share my single unlock of extra spooky, dark-as-my-soul Abyss dye, so we'll call it an alt-main bonding experience.

On the left, your classic valkyrie. On the right, early 90's goth.
You got Megaserved

Let's get this out of the way: The Megaserver system is awesome. I throw that word around with wild abandon, but really -- totally awesome. Radical, even, at least in theory. I don't think there's an MMO in existence that hasn't faced the problem of underpopulated mid-level zones, and it only becomes more apparent as more players finish leveling and new content gets added. GW2 isn't the first game to attempt to solve the issue by consolidating zone populations across worlds, but if all goes well this feature will be much more valuable than simply replicating the overflow system in the opposite direction.

I'm cautiously enthused because as much as I prefer getting shunted to an overflow over not being able to play at all, I don't spend a lot of time playing on my home server unless I'm on a less-populated map. Holidays, big living world events, and even hanging out in a popular city all feel a lot less homey when I'm not likely to run into people I know unless we party up and spend several minutes trying to join each other on the same overflow. And while I've had good experiences on overflows from time to time, I've also had some discouraging ones that led me to wonder what the point even is of having home servers if it has so little bearing on who we play with. The goal of Megaservers is to fix that.

While some of the commonly raised concerns could probably be assuaged with a slightly closer reading of the available information (e.g., the system is designed to do the exact opposite of shuffling us off onto an empty side server with anonymous randoms), others carry some merit. While Colin Johanson arrived in a feedback thread on the official forums to reassure players that ArenaNet will be listening and testing thoroughly, his advice to roleplayers to "guild up" was a little discouraging.

It's not so much about whether or not the Megaserver system will make it hard for RPers find each other; in fact, if it works the way it's supposed to, then being on the same home server and in the same guild and on each others' friend lists should skew connected RPers toward being set up on the same server. In that sense, telling players with similar interests to join guilds together is perfectly reasonable. On the other hand, it's another reminder that our playstyle does not see much at all in the way of official support, even when it would make a great deal of sense to add some.

A while back, I wrote about how GW2 almost entirely lacks meta tools for RPers. I can understand not wanting to designate and police an RP ruleset server; I can even understand not wanting to encourage RPers to self-segregate from the general player population under the current system. But when your goal is to implement a system that intelligently aids players in forming close-knit community groups, it'll be a missed opportunity if ArenaNet doesn't eventually provide some way for RPers to identify ourselves as such. After all, the Megaserver system can probably tell if you run a lot of dungeons. It probably knows if you like completing maps or participating in PvP or clearing temples or forming parties with Joe Coffeemug of the Coffee Warband [JAVA]. It has no way of telling if you like to RP. The system can help you connect with RPers on your friend list or in your guild, but does it have any way of helping you meet new ones? Where will it put a player if she's the only person in her circle of friends who enjoys RP? What about the person who has never roleplayed before and has no contacts within the community?

An optional RP flag wouldn't just make the Megaserver system convenient for RPers; it'd make it one of the best RP tools in an MMO, bar none. Even official RP servers in other games don't give the community the power to sort themselves to such an extent. RPers are mostly a self-organizing community, but so are static dungeon groups, organized World vs. World teams, and focused PvE guilds. The difference is that when some form of measurable combat-based gameplay is involved, those communities are given tools to help get organized, attract new players, and manage and support their playstyle beyond being in a guild. Whether the Megaserver feature impacts roleplay positively, negatively or not at all, that's still something the community could use.

Bobble salad!
Johanson encouraged players to wait and see how it works and to provide feedback on our experiences, so I'm definitely game. I feel almost bad being so nitpicky since the feature pack is clearly a massive undertaking, and as far as I know ArenaNet is not made up of cyborgs who never hunger or tire until every problem with GW2 is fixed. Still, I'm a professional nitpicker.

What are you looking forward to most in the feature pack? If you've drifted away, is it bringing you back? Is your server on track for a massive attack? Scroll down to the comment box to react, and if you think my rhyme's whack, please cut me some slack. 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 biweekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at anatoli@massively.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.
This article was originally published on Massively.