The Living Story Cycle

I’ve been mulling this over for a while now – since Queen’s Jubilee began, in fact – but I wanted to wait until today’s release announcement before writing this post. Tequatl Rising doesn’t quite confirm my theories and expectations about Guild Wars 2’s living story instalments, but it does provide another data point for the pattern I have been observing. It seems to me that we have seen a four stage pattern emerge in the game releases of the last few months – perhaps related to the four separate living story teams ArenaNet have stated are working on a rotation to create and prepare new content.

Bazaar of the Four Winds

The first half of this year had slower, more cumbersome, somewhat experimental living story updates, with Flame and Frost spanning January – May to do what we would probably see in a month on our current schedule. I see the Secret of Southsun arc as essentially filler, bridging the gap (this was made more or less explicit), with the true start of our current cycle at Dragon Bash. From here, I have found it possible to separate four cycling stages of living story, each of which delivers a slightly different kind of content.

1. Festival event – seemingly used as an introduction for a particular story arc, stage 1 has so far been a festival event for which players (and their characters) have a legitimate reason to be called to a specific area without anything being amiss. Distinguished by mini-games and themed items turning up as drops around the world.
Examples: Dragon Bash, Queen’s Jubilee.

2. Festival interruption – the fun and celebration is interrupted by an enemy who disrupts the festivities and wrecks havoc of some kind. Players are called upon to stop these foes and/or solve the problems they have created. So far, stage 2 has involved the introduction of new enemies for the arc (who have remained, with less influence, after the event), and has had the greatest focus on combat.
Examples: Sky Pirates of Tyria, Clockwork Chaos.

3. Non-combat interlude – stage 3 is less about combat and more about puzzles, with the focus so far on varieties of jumping puzzles. So far loot has been less of a factor in these updates, but different portions of the player base are appeased. These updates have been more light-hearted, without the looming threats of other stages.
Examples: Bazaar of the Four Winds, Super Adventure Box: Back to School.

4. Fourth stage – ?
I’m not yet certain how to classify this stage. The examples we have to go off are Cutthroat Politics, focusing on the Lion’s Arch election and player voting, and the upcoming Tequatl Rising, which seems like it will be focused on revamping the world bosses and Tequatl specifically. What is the common factor between these events? A permanent world/lore change, perhaps, or perhaps stage 4 is simply a wildcard for whatever experiments ArenaNet’s teams want to run. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait another two months for a complete cycle before we have another stage 4 example to compare.

Dragon Bash Festival

Obviously, this pattern is based on only what we’ve seen, and we can’t know whether it will continue along these lines or not. ArenaNet have shown themselves more than willing to shake things up and try something new, but since the fortnightly update schedule settled (and the four teams began to have more time to develop each event), the living story seems to have been both stable and successful with much smaller tweaks from month to month. Lately major game updates have been implemented alongside living story events without either aspect particularly suffering. It seems to me that this four stage cycle will fit nicely for the rest of 2013. A few tweaks may be necessary to fit the dates, but October approaches and GW2 has two of its already-established festivals – Halloween and Wintersday – coming up. I won’t be at all surprised to see a wide variety of Halloween content throughout October, playing out an extended story to build on what we learned about Mad King Thorn last year.

Or maybe the next events will throw my proposed cycle completely out. We shall see!

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