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Flameseeker Chronicles: The great nerfbat of '10 (or why ArenaNet didn't fail)

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

Last week's Guild Wars skill update sparked discussion among players that shows no sign of slowing any time soon. Player reactions ran the full spectrum, from delight to the infamous (and ineffective, since the player in question never intended to stop playing and the box didn't burn very well anyway) box burning. Whatever your feelings on it, there's no doubt that this huge skill update had a pretty big impact on the community over the past few days. Follow along after the jump for a closer look at the aftermath.

Globs of Ectoplasm jumped to 11k at the trader (as of this writing, they've dropped to 8k), hammers suddenly got a lot more interesting, and one guy stood in Doomlore Shrine spamming local chat with "If you're quitting Guild Wars, I'll take your stuff. Open trade." It was an interesting weekend in Tyria as we all explored the new skills and began learning which of our templates needed to be reworked.

We had a fair idea of what was coming, thanks to the preview notes released a week out, but the big question of Shadow Form and overpowered builds in general still remained. Shadow Form was the only area that didn't have specific notes in the preview, explaining instead that ArenaNet was taking a look not only at the skill, but at the underlying issue. It made perfect sense: simply nerfing Shadow Form to the point of being completely useless would only serve to create a new flavor of the month build (remember Ursan?), so the overall issue of invulnerability was explored.

In the end, overpowered skills across the board were dealt with. Love it or hate it, most players could agree that Shadow Form was a broken, unbalanced skill. A quick look around any of the American districts of Temple of the Ages would turn up hordes of Assassins with some reference to running or ecto farming in their names -- a clear sign that perma sins were maybe too much of a good thing. But on the other hand, how many W/Es were abusing Obsidian Flesh? How many monks were created solely to rake in piles of platinum feather farming and running dungeons? The issue was greater than just Shadow Form, and it was addressed as such.

The concept of "balance" indicates a certain amount of back-and-forth, a balancing act. There is no point where a game will be able to say "There. We're done, the game is balanced." Guild Wars players are (mostly) a pretty clever bunch and will play with skills and skill bars to figure out how to get the most bang for their buck. It's safe to say that Shadow Form was never intended to be used the way it wound up being used, nor -- to a lesser extent -- were the other invulnerability skills. But the collective player mind made it happen.

So now here we are with a blanket nerf of some pretty overpowered builds, and the community reaction has been fascinating. The loudest arguments, if not necessarily the most coherent, were the ones accusing ArenaNet of ruining the game, taking away all the fun, being unfair, you name it. The general idea was that ArenaNet is mean.

The problem with this is that it's impossible to set a blanket, rigid definition of "fun". The Guild Wars community, while they share a common interest, is still incredibly diverse and it's impossible for ArenaNet to create a game that is fun for everyone. As we discussed before, your version of fun depends largely on your attitude -- it all comes down to you in the end. There are a fair amount of people insisting that ArenaNet is out to get a certain type of player (the opinion varies on what type that is depending on who is telling the story.) On the other hand, an equal amount of players are delighted about this latest balance. They've been waiting for this for a long time and they are just as vocal in thanking the Guild Wars team for finally leveling the playing field and making things accessible to everyone again.

In spite of the howls of outrage and declarations that ArenaNet has finally ruined the game, causing hordes of players to quit forever, things in Tyria don't seem any less crowded. So what's going on? It's simple: the unhappiest people will shout the loudest. Those that were unhappy with the old skill set are shouting because the problem is gone and they're glad. Those that were happy with the old skill set are shouting because it's gone and they're emphatically not glad.

But the vast majority of the player base doesn't have a lot to say. They read through the update notes, jump in, and begin playing with the new skills. They recognize that Guild Wars is a very, very diverse game with plenty of options. Want to title hunt? Want to revisit some old favorite areas in hard mode? Is there a particular set of elite armor that has caught your eye? Want to fill your Hall of Monuments with Tormented Weapons? Go for it -- you've got time. Guild Wars 2 is not coming next week, we promise. The players that don't have much to say in public are the ones logged into game, discussing the best way to utilize Heal As One and how funny the new Earth Shaker animation is now. If they're chatting on the forums they're discussing the same thing. Discussing skills and builds with your fellow players is part of what makes Guild Wars great, and it's why most fansite forums have very active sub-forums dedicated to that very thing. Those quiet folks are then testing their theories and ideas by playing Guild Wars, which is kind of the point of the whole thing.

There will still be that extremely vocal minority that insists that the game is ruined, over, finished, zomgepicfail. To you I say: remember why you bought the game. You wanted to have fun. If you are beating your head against the title wall, or truly angry because you can't run your favorite build anymore, think on that. The decision to have fun or not really does lie with you. If you're not having fun, well, the MMO market is pretty crowded. Games are entertainment, and a form of relaxation. If this one doesn't work for you, there are plenty that do. In the end, you want to have some fun, so find your version of fun and enjoy yourself!

For the rest of you: LFR CoF. Will tip.

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