ArenaNet today announced the April 2014 Feature Pack, an update for April 15th (not the next patch, you’ll note; that one falls on April Fools…) which contains no living story but purely new game features. It looks to be a seriously big update too, if today’s teaser is anything to go by!
ArenaNet will be covering each major section of this update over the coming weeks, with today covering substantial changes to traits. The short of it is: we’re returning strongly to our roots in the original Guild Wars. Whether or not that’s a good thing at this point, I’m not convinced.
The trait update emphasises ‘horizontal progression’, something Guild Wars certainly excelled at (for those who weren’t there, level cap was 20 and the rest of your development was spent seeking out specific skills from various sources to perfect your build). There are some things in this update that I’m in favour of in theory, like a greater exploration element to progression, but overall I’m finding that I’m apparently entrenched enough in GW2 now that I dislike the thought of major change!
There are some specific issues. For example, adept traits (that is, the first ones) are now available at level 30, rather than level 11. This is to “add more meaningful character progression from levels 30 to 80,” but it withholds what has been a fairly central part of building your character for a lot of the early game. I’m now not sure what meaningful progress one makes between level 10 and 30 – as far as I can tell, one new skill becomes available at 20. Other than that, levelling brings skill points (easily forgettable) and nothing much else. More progression milestones later on is well and good, but by the time someone’s reaching level 30, they’re likely to be committed to the long haul. Shouldn’t we be providing more for the lower level characters – people who are potentially still new to the game, who want to feel like they’re getting somewhere?
Part of the reason for this is that trait points are being ‘compressed’, with one point equal to five under the current system – basically, one point progresses by one minor/major trait, rather than incrementally between them. The reason given for this is to make it clearer to players that benefits are really only gained at these five point intervals, and that’s how people should be spending their points anyway. Again, though, I think this overlooks the value of gradually adding traits for low-level characters. Bonus perks were only earned for every five, sure, but for a level 12 character that extra ten points of power or toughness could make a difference. What’s more, every level up brought you one step closer to a perk. By compressing this to one trait point every six levels from 30, ArenaNet are delaying the relevance of traits, leaving low level characters without the extra attributes points that came with them, and removing what, for me, was the first taste of creating a build in Guild Wars 2.
Besides, I think most players can figure out how the minor traits work with the points, and if they don’t, the previous solution was to allow players a free reset when they got their new trait books – so the player at level 40 is not stuck with the bumbling experiments of their level 15 self. Many a time I have changed tactics dramatically at level 40 once I finally know what I want to do with the character; that came from experimenting from a low level and learning as I went.
Trait points can now be refunded for free and from the hero panel, in PvE as it is in sPvP. This is a feature that has been clamoured for since beta, and which ArenaNet chose to withhold, keeping traits changeable but at least somewhat set in stone once one was out adventuring – with the instant trait reset consumable in the gem store for those who desperately wanted to capability. I’m not sure what made them change their mind now; evidently it fit better with their new vision for traits. It certainly is another think linking back to the ways of the original Guild Wars.
Also harking back to Guild Wars is the system to unlock individual major traits. Much like capturing elite skills in the original game, traits are now linked to specific challenges out in the world (apparently noted in the trait panel) that, when completed, will allow a player to unlock that trait. This acquisition-by-exploration is something that was a definite part of GW1 and was talked about in the development of GW2, but was mostly dropped in the end – again, I find it interesting that ArenaNet would return to it now. Perhaps they feel today’s game is better able to support it. Wisely, they have also added the ability to purchase trait unlocks from skill trainers, for those who are less inclined to go to far-flung corners of Tyria for the build they want. I think this alternative is absolutely necessary for the philosophy that no player should be forced into play they don’t enjoy, but it does make the exploration option feel more like a sideshow – completing the challenges is not the only way to get a trait, so one really only has to do it if one feels like it. The gold cost of trait unlocks may change that impression, of course.
Finally, the comparatively simple part of this traits update which we can probably all appreciate: new traits for all! Each profession will receive a new grandmaster trait for each trait line, meaning a total of 40 new ones across the game. The blog post previews one for each profession, so naturally there will be a lot more to see on April 15th. The post also notes that “quite a few of these traits are being implemented based on feedback from the community.” I’d say it shows – the cynical part of me saw traits which simply mitigated common complaints about the class, which I’m not sure I like. However, more traits means more variety of builds and options for players, and that I am in favour of.
So, is this trait update is trying to do too many things at once – to appease some people in a way that will upset the play of others – or am I just set in my ways and resistant to changes to the game, despite my supposed support for innovation? Only time will tell! We can expect more feature previews in the coming weeks; I’m holding out for new legendary weapons, myself.