Guild Wars 2 had a good 2022. Its tenth year brought a new expansion, the return of the first season of its Living World story, a Steam launch, and quality-of-life improvements that addressed some long-standing gripes lingering in its ageing code. It also brought renewed hope for the future, with the announcement—shortly after End of Dragons' release—of a fourth expansion. It was such a good year that we named it our Best Ongoing Game.
Now, for 2023, ArenaNet is preparing us for that expansion's release. We don't have a theme, or even a release date. Instead, we have a new format for how expansions (plural) will be released.
Here's the basic takeaway: Guild Wars 2's future expansions will be smaller, cheaper and more frequent.
"Rather than launching an expansion every two to four years with a season of Living World in between, we’ll be releasing smaller expansions more frequently at a slightly reduced price and adding additional content for those expansions through quarterly updates," writes Josh "Grouch" Davis, Guild Wars 2 game director, "meaning that the next big release is only ever a few months away."
Future expansions will initially release with two new open-world maps, two Strike Missions, "new gameplay and combat features", and new progression in the form of new Masteries and rewards.
Quarterly updates will then build on what the expansion has introduced. "We'll add another open-world map, additional story chapters, challenge modes for the Strike Missions, a new fractal dungeon and challenge mode, new rewards, and additions to the new systems introduced in that expansion," writes Davis. "Once that expansion’s story is complete, the next expansion will be just around the corner."
For comparison, End of Dragons released with four open-world maps and four Strike Missions, along with the usual selection of new features and associated Masteries.
So yes, definitely smaller, but then those larger expansions were few and far between. End of Dragons was just the third expansion for Guild Wars 2, releasing four and a half years after its second, Path of Fire. And while previously, Living World releases would separate expansions, those have historically had their own issues, not least the cost of catching up for new players.
As for why ArenaNet is making the change, Davis explains the toll of balancing expansions with Living World chapters. "Historically, with few exceptions, Living World seasons have required the focus of nearly the entire Guild Wars 2 development team to deliver them at the size, quality, and cadence that our players expect. This made it difficult to simultaneously develop expansions while supporting the game with regular content updates."
A lot will depend on the quality of the next expansion, but roughly I'm on board with this change. After years of inconsistent releases, just having regular, scheduled content updates should make a huge difference to how alive and active the game feels. We've seen this across the last year on the balance side of things. Since the balance team moved to regular updates, it's made a big difference seeing old weapons and traits get some new life.
For the community's part, I'd say there's cautious optimism to the announcement. Cautious because this isn't the first time ArenaNet has announced a new release philosophy—and at times the studio has failed to deliver. The difference now is that, since Davis took charge as game director in 2021, there's been a clear shift in how ArenaNet communicates to the community, and how it appears to be building to a sustainable future for the game.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of questions about what these smaller expansions will deliver. Elite Specialisations are the big unknown—new combat styles for the game's classes. Previous expansions all launched with a new Elite Spec for each class, but as a balance proposition that feels unsustainable for more frequent releases. The reference to new combat features suggest they could still be on the table, but how frequently remains to be seen.
In the more immediate future, February 28 will see the release of the first major content update for End of Dragons. "With familiar allies like Detective Rama and his hat at your side, you’ll travel to a new location in Cantha and come face-to-face with a deadly foe that resides deep within the Jade Sea," teases Davis. "That storyline will conclude a few months later with an update that introduces additional playable space to the map, adds meta-events and boss encounters, and lays the groundwork for future to-be-announced adventures."