In the early days of Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet trialled a series of updates that in many ways predicted the live service craze of today. The first season of what it called the 'Living World' featured a series of episodes that temporarily changed established maps in service of the current plot. In the dramatic finale to the season, the main city hub of Lion's Arch was transformed into a battlezone that players had to fight to save—the city later being completely redesigned following its destruction.
It turned out, however, that players largely didn't appreciate having just two weeks to experience each part of the ongoing story—a lesson in the downsides of FOMO that many games-as-a-service developers are reckoning with today. For future seasons, the structure of the Living World was changed so that each episode was a permanent addition, usually taking place on a brand new map.
And so while new players can revisit almost all of Guild Wars 2's story, season one remains lost to time—experienced only via NPCs dedicated to explaining what happened, and through certain Fractals and, more recently, Visions of the Past missions. Next week, though, ArenaNet is bringing back one of the best encounters from that first season: the Twisted Marionette, returning over seven years after its release and subsequent quick departure.
Originally part of 2014's The Origins of Madness release, the Twisted Marionette was arguably the template for the next seven years of Guild Wars 2's design. While the game always featured World Bosses—huge fights that encouraged an entire map's population to work together to take down some big bastard—the Marionette required an extra degree of cooperation, as the server organised into separate lanes to complete objectives in tandem. This design philosophy would be advanced in Guild Wars 2's first expansion, which was almost entirely focused around map-wide meta events, and remains a mainstay of even the most recent releases.
Back when it was released, I called the Twisted Marionette one of ArenaNet's best encounters, and I'm fascinated to go back and see how it holds up. I suspect it will feel very different now, in part because so much of Guild Wars 2's infrastructure has been remade. At the time, maps were tied to the server that you were on, which lent the encounter a sense of community and camaraderie. It took a good few attempts for our server to get the hang of it, but there was growing excitement each time we got closer to the end.
Now, Guild Wars 2 has largely done away with the concept of servers—they're really only used for the World vs World multiplayer, and even that will change soon. Moreover, the specialisations added with the game's two expansions have led to a spike in player power, meaning that many meta events feel more automatic than they perhaps did in the past.
Elsewhere in the game, ArenaNet is preparing players for the upcoming End of Dragons expansion with a series of retrospective releases encouraging them to revisit previous Living World episodes. Each week, new achievements point players at older maps, with some powerful rewards available for completing them all. For some, the highlight of the overarching meta-achievement is the opportunity to score a guaranteed precursor for one of End of Dragons' new legendary weapons. Personally, though, I'm more invested in the chance at a 32-slot inventory bag.
More generally, ArenaNet is in an interesting place right now. A studio update released earlier this month promised more open communication with the studio, as well as the return of key figures to the development team—including former game director Colin Johanson. Alongside that post, the studio revealed that they were working on an DirectX 11 update due to roll out in an opt-in beta later this year, which will hopefully finally address the game's poor multithreaded CPU performance.