PAX South 2015 was host to the biggest announcement for the Guild Wars 2 team since the game launched in 2012. Game Director Colin Johanson took to the stage to details many of the new features found in the Heart of Thorns expansion. Soon afterward he spoke with iDigitalTimes Associate Editor Mo Mozuch about the history behind the expansion and the future of the franchise.
Do you have content planned for GW2’s “living world” between now and the Heart of Thorns release?
We’ll still have live releases, that’s still part of what we do and certainly part of our DNA. We always that to be part of the GW2 experience. The living world storyline is done for now. The end of season two basically sets up the beginning of the expansion and seamlessly transitions right into it. People have a great chance now to go back and check that out. The final episode of season two of the living world is available in game right now. The story of the expansion picks up right after that.
So there won’t be anymore living world between now and the expansion. We will still have live releases. We’re going to be focusing a lot on betas. We’ll have a playable demo at PAX East so people can come in and play it, and we’ll go into beta testing immediately after that. Those are the big things to look forward to.
What aspects of HoT do you think will hook new players?
I think the biggest thing for new players is the same core message we had when we launched Guild Wars 2. When you play you actually play with other people in an online space. When you see another player the game gets more fun. People can’t steal your kill. Everyone can res. They have fluid combat roles so you’re never stuck waiting 30 minutes for another player to show up so you can play content.
The things you do matter. Dynamic events affect the world, so when an event happens everybody gets to participate in it instead of the traditional questing system where you read a giant wall of text and run off and do something and then you have someone else do the same thing 10 seconds later. These are the core pillars of the guild wars experience. I think for a new player those stay throughout the game.
Plus, there’s no monthly fee and it’s a game that respects your time. It’s a game that allows you to take a break and go play other stuff and come back. We don’t want to have the MMO that monopolizes your life and your time. We want to respect you as a gamer.
Conversely, what do you think existing players will enjoy the most?
A lot of what we heard from people who played for a little while and moved on was ‘I’m looking for more content at level 80’ and ‘a greater sense of development’ and ‘a clear sense of an endgame.’ Along with that we heard ‘I don’t want to be put on a gear treadmill’ and ‘I don’t want to have to come back every year and have all my hard work invalidated.’ So we picked the progression system we did deliberately to buck that trend. We do things differently and we’ll do things differently again. Let’s pick a progression system, let’s add really hard, challenging content to our game because people want that.
They want meaningful level progression at level 80? Let’s add that. They want meaningful guilds and meaningful guild progressions? Guilds are a much bigger part of our game. They want new skills and new ways to play their professions and a new profession? Let’s do that, and along with all of that let’s keep our promises about what our game should be. Let’s not invalidate everyone’s hard work. Let’s give them something that supports “the journey is the goal” in Guild Wars 2. That’s really what all these systems are about.
So there’s going to be a lot more to do with your level 80 character?
Infinitely more to do. When the expansion comes out there’s all this Maruuma stuff to do. It gives us this framework to regularly update the game and actually have that be meaningful as well. If you look at the concept of living world, after the expansion is out it allows us now to add meaningful content that is hard. That gives us meaningful content that you want to progress through and earn. And we can regularly add progression and new abilities to the game because we want to have a framework to do that. And so there’s going to be a great reason, not just with this expansion, to come back. A ton of content comes after it for you to keep playing and to get excited about. And it keeps that core philosophy of regular updates in Guild Wars 2.
Are you aware that the price of precursors tanked after the announcement that they’d be part of Heart of Thorns quests?
Yes! I heard about that! I was really frustrated I wasn’t at home to log in and buy one.
That’s good news. I think the price on them was way over-inflated. I hope they’re dropping to a price that’s more approachable. I really hope with the precursor system being in place, and being able to spend mastery points to go get these collections, the process of going through that will be a lot more fun for people. They’ll get to see all these parts of the world and explore and enjoy different components of it. And then have a big reward waiting for them when they’re done and use that to build towards their legendary. I think that’s going to be really great for the game.
Are there going to be capes?
No capes currently planned. Boy, I hope so though.
It’s actually a technological limitation that we’ve been having to deal with. The amount of unfortunate issues that come with capes comes from the way we do armor today but if we eventually figure it out it’ll be part of the game for sure. Right now there is no plan for capes and we would’ve said it if it was coming.
How big is Maguuma?
We’re taking a bit of a different strategy on this than what traditional MMOs would do. We’ve looked at what a lot of games have done in the past and I think what ends up happening is they go for broad. They add a ton of zones, you tear through them, and then there’s this wasteland left behind of an empty game world and content that just isn’t relevant anymore.
So what are you focusing on instead?
We’re focused on setting up smaller maps that are really deep. We want to focus on a ton of content within a map. A ton of replay value. Maps you want to come back to and play over and over again and really have a deep experience with. Ultimately we think that’s better for the player. That’s better for the game. In an online game where it’s supposed to be about playing with other people if we focus on smaller space that has a deeper experience I think it’s just a better MMO experience and you’ll always have a ton of people to play with.
How did you decide to finally add Guild vs Guild content to the game?
I think one of the things we certainly could’ve done better on the launch of the game, and we’ve heard a lot of feedback on this and it’s one of the reasons we built this expansion, was that guilds needed to be a more integral part of the Guild Wars experience. I mean, the game is called “Guild” Wars. Granted, that’s based on a brief moment in history, but still, it is called “Guild” Wars. So we really wanted to put the “guild” back in Guild Wars with this expansion. That’s a big component of it for us. So that’s why we’re doing all the things we’re doing for guilds: giving them guild halls, giving them meaningful guild progression, giving them the ability to build out your guild hall with your friends, the ability to have a team and register in the guild ladder and fight to prove who are the best guilds in pvp.
How much of the new GvG comes from the original Guild Wars?
The new pvp game mode Stronghold certainly draws a lot of inspiration from the original Guild Wars gvg mode. It draws a lot of inspiration from the Ft. Aspenwood game mode as well, and a little bit from MOBAs too. There are some things MOBAs have done that we really like. It’s kind of an amalgamation of a lot of different things and some uniquely Guild Wars twists added on top of that.
It’s not necessarily what we intended to do when we released the game, but it’s something we realised we needed to have. So, we’ve been working for a long time to get to the point where this can become one of the pillars of what our game is about. After the Heart of Thorns expansion comes out, it will be.
Do you ever go anonymously into the game to get fan reaction and insight?
I play the game a lot. Very few people know who I am. So I hear people talking. Everybody at ArenaNet plays the game a lot and we don’t always play with the little ArenaNet tag on so we can get genuine reactions and feedback.
How has the reaction to HoT been?
The response so far has been better than I hoped it would be. Yesterday, after announcing the expansion and the reaction it got as the number one stream on Twitch was crazy. We’re seeing a lot of people who said “I played Guild Wars 2 when it came out, I had a really good time, I stuck around for X amount of time and then I moved on to play something else.” And we’ve always been OK with that. That’s why we don’t charge a monthly fee. I think we rekindled a lot of interest in something people have a fond memory of and I’m really exciting to see that. We’re seeing a ton of account recoveries. The players are surging back into the game already. It was an awesome day for us and it just keeps growing.
I think that being able to as a company come out and say that we’re going to stick to all the promises we made two years ago, and then innovate on top of those and stick to our pillars in those innovations, I think that doesn’t happen that often. I’m really proud to work for a company that will stick by those things. I think players are excited to see that we do that. And excited to see how we’re going to the game when are open to solving the things that players like to see more of.