PAX East 2014: Guild Wars 2 on the Feature Pack and beyond

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If you're a Guild Wars 2 fan, we all know what you're excited about today. After a year(ish) of small incremental patches and living story, the game is rolling out a big patch full of features appropriately dubbed the Feature Pack. It's not new content, but it's a lot of big bonuses and improvements to the ways that players already play the game's existing content. And we got to see a bit of it in action at PAX East.

Some of the information about how these features will work has already been discussed, but not everything, and seeing all of the improvements in action definitely gave a sense of tangible change not visible in development blogs. It's part of a shift in ethos for the development team, as well; rather than trying to roll out changes along with Living Story updates, ArenaNet is implementing a big set of improvements at once to make the whole update feel meatier.

No more of the old mistakes, time to forge ahead making exciting new ones!Regardless of how much has actually changed in the game since launch, the devs believe that dividing everything into small updates every two weeks didn't produce the feeling of a big and overarching patch that really upgraded the game. So the team has learned: Living world updates should be about new content, and features should be bundled together in patches focused on just that. Mixing the two isn't ultimately as advantageous for the players or the game.

So what's this feature pack all about? Polish. It's about taking the parts of the game that are done well and improving them. It's also meant to emphasize reasons to interact with other players and horizontal progression, bringing some of the feel of Guild Wars into Guild Wars 2.

An obvious example of that comes from the trait overhaul. The addition of new unlocked traits is meant to echo the hunt for captured skills in the original Guild Wars. Every trait line has a new Grandmaster trait added to it, which boils down to 40 new traits across all the professions. Any traits not yet unlocked for characters will also offer hints about where they can be unlocked, thus spurring players to go hunting and searching instead of just grinding in the same areas. It's a different way to drive people out into the world.

But what about existing characters? You don't need to worry; old characters will still have access to all of the traits they did pre-patch. Only the new traits will remain locked.

Traits are now unlocked at level 30, and each trait point offers a much more substantial increase, so while you have fewer overall points, each one is worth five of the old points. There are also no more concerns about trait refunds. This is important to allowing players the opportunity to play around with builds. Traits influence so many parts of gameplay that having expensive refunds made people reluctant to experiment; allowing for free refunds out of combat encourages swapping stats around as needed to produce a different setup depending on circumstance.

The hero panel, obviously, is now being revised to accommodate the new Wardrobe system, an account-wide collection of equipment skins that's separate from your actual equipment. You can also access the wardrobe storage from the bank, which shows everything obtainable in the game as well as what you have access to, complete with preview functions for things you don't yet have. Rather than forcing you to hang on to old equipment just to keep your look, you can get rid of old pieces you don't want and retain the skin as an account-wide unlock.

By and large, the team likes the idea of keeping collections account-bound rather than character-bound; it places less emphasis on collecting something that you've already gotten on another character. Ascended and Legendary gear are also going to be account-bound, just as the WXP mechanics will be account-wide rather than character-based.

They ask if I'm done playing Pretty Pretty Dress-Up but it's a foolish question.  I can never be done.  I never want to be done.The PvP system is also taking cues from Guild Wars, with the option to make quick PvP builds as you want without having to worry about equipment. Rewards are meant to be more integrated with the game as a whole, with specific PvP items bidding the game farewell and with the addition of the new PvP reward tracks. These tracks also can include dungeon drops, offering an alternative means of grabbing these rewards for players who prefer smashing the faces of other players.

A new map is also being added specifically for arena-style matchups; the map rewards points for each player killed on the other side, with the option to set a winning number of points as well as configure how many players are allowed in. As players had already been running informal arena tournaments via existing maps, it only made sense to roll the functionality into the core game and support something players obviously like doing.

The last major change is the shift over to a megaserver system, which gets rid of the existing world distinction everywhere but WvW matches. This technology is supposed to still be reactive; players will see others based upon friends, origin worlds, and playstyle preferences, ensuring that you're more likely to see people you want to associate with in the event that you're in a populated spot. If you're in a less crowded zone, on the other hand, pulling in players from every world will avoid parts of the world becoming empty regions.

After seeing all of these improvements, I was given a chance to ask some questions. My first question was whether or not the cross-character armor choices were universal; I was told that racial armors will remain distinct, but all other styles can be used regardless. So you can dress your Priory character up in Order of Whispers gear if another character has unlocked it, although that might be changed based on feedback.

By splitting up the updates between Living World content and feature packs, the team also hopes to have the development time and space to do things closer to a traditional expansion. Some elements of the feature pack resemble expansion features, but the team isn't oblivious to the fact that players want things like new maps, new races, and new professions. It's all a matter of finding the time and space for these inclusions.

Last but not least, the team has taken both criticism and praise for the first season of Living World updates to heart, and the second season will be significantly different. While the devs weren't willing to share any details just yet, more information was promised "soon" for those curious. There's also an understanding that players want more permanent content, something that was brought up by players during the collaborative discussion that is at the forefront of current design decisions.

It's the start of new projects for the Guild Wars 2 team and a new way of supporting the game moving forward. That makes it a pretty good time to be adventuring in Tyria, truth be told.

Massively was on the ground in Boston during the weekend of April 11th to 13th, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2014. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, Landmark, or any MMO in between, we aim to have it covered!

This article was originally published on Massively.