A Kinder, Gentler, … WvW War?

Last week’s “Changes in Store” announcement focused on adjustments coming to WvW gameplay with Heart of Thorns, including strategic changes that affect the waypoint system, upgrade automation, and various modifications to gameplay mechanics. The original blog post by Tyler Bearce focused on the removal of player-instigated upgrades to structures on the WvW maps. Later in the week, the following Ready Up episode detailed these changes further and included further information on adjustments to the waypoint system and WvW abilities. The likely reaction of PvE players, like myself, who have spent a good amount of time in the Silverwastes, to most of the announced changes probably runs along the lines of “That sounds familiar.”

Contested Waypoints, Dolyaks, Defensive positions. Yep, looks like WvW.

When the Silverwastes first opened, people were struck by the way it mimicked WvW – supply caravans that needed escorting, upgrades that needed to be completed, offensive and defensive events to finish. Now, it appears that this map may have acted as a proving ground for the new WvW system. Upgrades in the Silverwastes happen automatically, setting up a predictable timer for the entire map that dictates the ebb and flow of the battle against the mordrem and Mordremoth’s champions. While there was some discussion of these upgrade changes during our recent podcast, for casual WvW players like myself, the changes may prove little more than an interesting side note.

In the current system, players are required to pay for upgrades to the camps, towers, keeps, and Stonemist Castle. According to Bearce, this led to strife within the ranks as people argued over which upgrades to build and in what order. Additionally, under the current system, one person might contribute all the gold necessary to building the upgrades or, potentially, no one on the map would want to spend the necessary gold. Arguments also centered around the use of supplies within the structures as they could be used to fund upgrades or they could be used to build items, such as trebuchets. Perhaps because I play on a low population server and merely “dabble” in WvW, I have never witnessed any of this strife personally.

With the expansion, people will no longer have to fight over how to use supplies.

To combat the problems mentioned by Bearce, under the new WvW system, upgrades will be consolidated into several tiers, which will be reached automatically at set intervals. Camps, where the supply dolyaks spawn, will have only two tiers while every other structure will have three. This tiered upgrading system solves the problems mentioned prior; as it occurs automatically, players will not have to spend supply or gold to build upgrades and there will be no reason to argue over which upgrades to incorporate. Dolyak supply escorts become more important in this system as they can hasten the upgrade timers. Alternatively, players can delay the other team’s supply chain and gain the upper hand on their own upgrades. Without the supply dolyak’s influence, camps will take an hour to fully upgrade while all others will take two hours. Potentially, supply escorts and disruptions could be an easy in-road for PvE players who are seeking a more competitive game mode, as escort missions are commonplace in their normal game mode.

However, these changes to the upgrade tiers have been coupled with a reworking of the waypoint system, which spawned confusion and some concern, both voiced in the official forums. In the future, only Stonemist Castle will have an upgrade that allows a world to set a waypoint. All other waypoints have been made permanently available so long as the team owns the nearest objective. It should be noted that waypoint positions have been changed on the Borderlands map. The home team’s waypoint will be at the garrison and each invading team will have a waypoint at the tower closest to their home borderlands. Of course, these waypoints can still become contested if opposing teams control those objectives. The changed positions of the waypoints may very well affect the current strategies players use to master a Borderlands map. Since these changes go live with the expansion, we will be learning the new waypoint system as we are learning a new map, and it is possible any concern over how the changes affect gameplay is premature. Bearce explained these changes had come about because the devs were concerned about how players were using waypoints and the adjustments are an attempt to balance their usage across the maps, making WvW a more inviting and fairer experience.

With different maps and waypoints, our strategies are sure to change.

Other announced changes to the mechanics and character building aspects of WvW follow the same underlying theme: simplified, friendlier gameplay. By adjusting the WvW ability tier costs, the developers are hoping to lower the barrier for new people entering the Eternal Battlegrounds for the first time. This could be a refreshing change for veteran players as well, making abilities more uniform and easier to attain. At the same time, the devs have chosen to do away with the Applied Fortitude and Applied Strength buffs. While new players were at a disadvantage when facing veterans who had acquired these buffs because of the thousand hours of play necessary to achieve them, the dedication of those who did play over a thousand hours and do have these buffs should be acknowledged. Although Bearce stated that the devs never really cared for them to begin with, veteran WvW players may feel slighted by the removal of these advantages.

In the end, it is important to remember that the devs are still working on balancing the WvW maps and systems. While doing this work, I would argue that aspects of WvW, such as server populations, along with various stats, gear, and consumable buffs people bring to the map, must be kept in mind. In a contest between servers, are we really striving for level playing fields? If so, the leveling should begin with uniform character builds and set numbers per team. As it stands, there are too many variables in play for anything resembling an even starting point. Efforts then should be focused on making sure that all can participate, regardless of their skill level or time spent in the Mists. As a casual WvW player, I do appreciate the work that ArenaNet has put into making this game mode more approachable and, as a consummate yak slapper and wreaker of havoc, I am looking forward to the dolyak supply chains playing a more important role in the outcome of the match. Whether or not these changes will entice fellow PvE players to enter the server vs. server deathmatch remains to be seen.

Could the fate of the war effort rest on the shoulders of the pack dolyak and his escorts?
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