Studio Update: Spring 2023

by The Guild Wars 2 Team on May 01, 2023

Hello, Commanders!

Welcome to the latest installment of the ArenaNet Studio Update, your go-to resource for Guild Wars 2 development news. Today we’ll address some community questions regarding our announcement back in February, share an updated roadmap through the beginning of summer, and then talk at a high level about our longer-term projects that extend beyond June.

Content Model Q&A

In our February Studio Update, we outlined some changes we’re making in our development approach that allow us to deliver new content, features, and core game updates more consistently. It was a lot of information to take in, and understandably, there are some lingering questions from the community about the changes. We’ve been keeping a close eye on the discussion, and below we’ve compiled responses to some of the more prominent community questions.

Q: I’ve been lost in the Tangled Depths for the last two months with no cell phone service and I missed the news. What’s the tl;dr?

We’re changing how we deliver updates to the game so that we can adopt a more consistent release schedule, minimize “content droughts,” and increase our support for the core game. Rather than releasing an expansion every 2–4 years with 1–2 seasons of Living World in between, we’ll be releasing smaller expansions, with a lower price, much more frequently.

In this new model, the first release in an expansion cycle will introduce a new story arc and setting, two new open-world maps, two Strike Missions, new gameplay and combat features, new Masteries, and new rewards. In the following quarterly updates, we’ll add story chapters, an additional open-world map, challenge modes for the Strike Missions, a new fractal dungeon and challenge mode, new rewards, additions to the new systems introduced in that expansion, and—depending on the release plan for that expansion—new gameplay and combat features. Alongside these expansion content updates, we’re beefing up our support for the core game so we can iterate and improve on Guild Wars 2, even while releasing new expansion content on a more consistent schedule. Once that expansion’s year-long cycle is complete, the next expansion will be just around the corner.

You can read a more detailed overview of the change in the February Studio Update.

Q: Do smaller expansions mean that there are fewer developers working on Guild Wars 2?

Nope, quite the contrary. In fact, thanks to the growth that Guild Wars 2 saw in 2022, we’re increasing the size of the Guild Wars 2 development team—largely in content and systems design. We’ve already hired a bunch of new folks since January, and we’ll be opening additional roles throughout the year.

Q: How does this shift result in more support for the core game?

Let’s start by defining the “core game.” Core is typically viewed as synonymous with the base Guild Wars 2 experience—anything that doesn’t require an expansion. Systems-wise, that’s a huge chunk of the game: core Tyria and the story up to level 80, professions, World vs. World, structured Player vs. Player, dungeons, Fractals of the Mists dungeons, crafting—the list goes on. In the context of supporting the live game and our new development strategy, “core” also encapsulates the long list of content and features that have been added to the game over the past decade. When we introduce features to Guild Wars 2, we want those new tools to be relevant across the entire game—past, present, and future. Because the systems introduced in expansions like Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™, Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire™, and Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons™ are so ubiquitous and central to the player experience, they deserve iteration just as much as any true “core” system.

Over the past decade, our development strategy has skewed more toward addition, rather than iteration. That’s not a bad thing by default, but every development strategy has tradeoffs—different pros and cons. In this case, it meant that the core game took a back seat. Meanwhile, the number of features slowly crept upward, without a plan or designated resources to maintain them.

More than ever, we’re confident in our future and we’re committed to long-term support for this community. This is why we’re taking on projects that will keep the game healthy in the long run, like refactoring large swaths of old code, optimizing our development tools, future-proofing WvW with the World Restructuring system, and updating our engine. Improving existing systems is also a key part of our strategy for Guild Wars 2, and by rescoping and redefining our future expansions, we were able to get started on core game improvements right after the release of Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons. In a little over a year, those teams delivered a significant list of changes, all while expansion 4 has been in development.

  • The return of Living World Season 1
  • Steam launch
  • Updated visuals and mechanics for multiple world bosses
  • Emboldened mode for raids
  • Reworked fractal Mistlock Instabilities
  • Updated default key bindings and settings for new players
  • Custom key-binding profiles
  • Multiple major profession updates
  • A new Super Adventure Box map
  • An update to dungeon, Strike Mission, and raid rewards
  • High-contrast mouse cursors
  • A change to prevent all story instances from ejecting players who cross the instance boundary
  • WvW quality-of-life improvements and rewards updates
  • A wide range of improvements to the new-player experience
  • Bank access from the Mystic Forge
  • A wardrobe and dye randomizer option
  • A Black Lion Statuette overhaul to make collecting and exchanging them more rewarding
  • Megaserver map queues
  • Allied player visual-effect filtering (spoiler!)
  • And more!

Despite that progress, there is still much left to do. We take a lot of pride in our work and making our players happy, and there’s a nearly infinite list of things we’d like to do. However, both time and development resources are finite (if you’ve ever heard a developer talk about “constraints,” that’s what they’re lamenting), so we must be very intentional with where we focus our efforts. For now, we’re addressing systems that will positively impact as many players as possible. As time goes on, we hope to dig into more niche areas of the game.

Q: The February Studio Update said that future expansions would include “combat features” and didn’t mention elite specializations at all. What does that mean?

In the current design and implementation of elite specializations, we feel that with every new expansion there’s been increasingly limited “design space” left to add new and differentiated roles for each profession. In other words, most of the playstyles that we’d like to see supported for each profession already exist or should exist within their existing elite specialization options.

With our next expansion, our goal is to further augment the combat options for each profession by adding new tools to their arsenal and by lifting constraints that will unlock an unprecedented number of playstyle customization options—while keeping the feel of Guild Wars 2 combat true to its origins. Theorycrafters are going to be very busy.

Q: How does the “What Lies Beneath” quarterly release differ from future expansions’ quarterly releases?

Beginning with the fourth expansion, there will be new content updates every three to four months following an expansion release. For context, there was no new Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons story content released between February 2022 and February 2023, largely because the team worked on the expansion up until its release, delaying new content development until a month or two later. Comparatively, the fourth expansion hasn’t even been officially revealed yet, and we’re already making headway on its quarterly release content. This is one of the biggest reasons we’re excited about this transition.
Additionally, as we laid out earlier in this blog, the fourth expansion’s quarterly releases will be augmented by other types of content and feature updates that aren’t included in the Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons quarterly releases.

Spring/Summer Roadmap Updates

Here’s a more detailed look at what’s to come over the next two months.

Spring/Summer Roadmap Updates

May 2: Profession Balance Update

Tomorrow’s update will include profession balance changes aimed at addressing outstanding balance issues and bringing up some underperforming elite specializations, like reaper. We’re keeping this update on the lighter side—with just over 100 changes in total—so the team can focus on delivering a larger balance update on June 27 (more on that later in the blog). If you missed the balance update preview that was posted on April 21, you can check it out on the official Guild Wars 2 forums.

May 23: New End of Dragons Content, “What Lies Within”

The next update for Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons arrives on May 23, concluding the story that began earlier this year in “What Lies Beneath.” Together with your allies, you’ll tackle new story chapters and a new capstone encounter for the Gyala Delve meta-event that will have your squad breaking through an old tunnel to the surface to put an end to the demons of the depths.

Once the danger has been cleared out of Gyala Delve, the map will enter a more peaceful state fit for exploring. Several new adventures will become available, including our first cooperative adventure featuring the siege turtle. Earlier Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons maps will share in the updates, with new siege turtle, jade bot, and skiff adventures. You’ll also start running into oni in the Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons maps—stalking from the shadows to strike unsuspecting adventurers.

Alongside the new content, we’ve got a plethora of new rewards to pursue. In addition to a bevy of treasure chests and achievements awaiting your triumph in Gyala Delve, new collections will put you on the road to unlocking a new set of armor skins fit for braving Cantha’s dangers, and there will be new weapon skins and unique weapons to earn as well.

This release will be the last story update in the Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons release cycle. Keep an eye out for hints toward the future, and look forward to the upcoming fractal where you can peer further into the shadows under the Jade Sea.

June 6: Dragon Bash, Allied Player Visual-Effect Filtering, and World vs. World Rewards Update

The annual celebration of our penchant for dragon slaying, the Dragon Bash festival, returns to Tyria on June 6!

The June 6 release will also introduce a new option in the settings menu, Hide Ally Visual Effects, that will give you control over whether visual effects are shown for allied players, pets, and minions. While the default setting hides no visual effects (just as it works now), you will now be able to choose from three new options to hide visual effects for all allied players, hide them for allied players who aren’t in your squad, or hide them for allied players who aren’t in your party. Some high-impact allied visual effects that convey important information in combat, such as combo fields, cannot be hidden.

Note: this option only applies to allied players, so you won’t be surprised by any invisible attacks from enemy players or creatures!

Hide Ally Visual Effects

As part of our focus on core game modes, we’ll be releasing another round of World vs. World improvements, including the addition of a new infusion and weapon set and new ways to spend your unused Skirmish Claim Tickets and Emblems of the Avenger.

An account-bound version of the infusion can be purchased after completing an achievement in World vs. World. Keep lords will also have a chance to drop a tradeable version of the infusion when defeated. RIP, keep lords.

June 27: Cantha-Themed Fractal Dungeon and Profession Balance Update

New Fractals of the Mists content is just around the corner, but you’re going to need to wait a little bit longer to hear the juicy details. However, we did want to share a quick note on how we’re approaching its design. When we started development on the new fractal, we took some time to review the feedback from our last fractal release, Sunqua Peak. One of the main themes in the feedback was that players prefer less waiting around and more action, especially when you’re replaying the instance often. One of our goals for this upcoming release is to deliver a fractal with a tighter gameplay experience, while still providing story content as fractals do. The challenge mode is scheduled for the following update so we can tune the encounter and address any bugs stemming from the normal version.

As for the balance update, here’s what we’re looking to address:

  • Improving the feeling of moment-to-moment gameplay for many boon support builds. We want these builds to have more flexibility in their utility skill choice, and not be required to press a particular utility type on cooldown to provide quickness or alacrity.
  • Introducing alternate playstyles for some specializations, including quickness-support deadeye and damage builds for druid and tempest.
  • Tuning up some underutilized weapons and solidifying their roles within their professions. For example, we’re looking at further defining ranger sword as a mobile, power damage weapon.
  • Removing additional skill-type-specific recharge-reduction traits and rolling the reduction into baseline skills where it makes sense to do so. The goal of these changes is to give players more interesting trait options to choose from.

We’re excited to see what new builds get unearthed after the update goes live!

Long-Range Development Initiatives

Hearing about what’s coming through the end of June is cool and all, but what else is there, you ask? Here’s a high-level look at some of our active initiatives on the Guild Wars 2 team.

Core Game Updates

After the allied visual-effect filtering feature releases on June 6, the team primarily responsible for core game updates will be turning their attention toward completing their most ambitious project yet—a rework of an existing core game reward system. Intriguing, right? This feature is still many months away from shipping and we’re not ready to talk about it quite yet, but we wanted to let you know that they’ll be heads down on this one for a while. Just want to make sure you don’t assume they’ve been kidnapped by skritt or something. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping an eye on feedback regarding the megaserver map queue and the allied visual-effect features and will make additional changes there as needed.

Infrastructure Improvements

As of April 18, DirectX 9 is no longer an option in the settings menu, meaning that Guild Wars 2 is now officially running on DirectX 11! So, what’s next for the engine programming team? Our near-term focus is to knock out any new bugs and crashes related to the upgrade, finish updating our art production pipeline to DirectX 11, and, finally, begin the work of removing all DirectX 9 code from the engine.

Removing this code is the last remaining step that’s preventing us from moving on to the most exciting part of this initiative, which is digging into the various technology upgrades that DirectX 11 enables for Guild Wars 2. We’re going to need some time to look into the feasibility of each once we finish removing the guts of DirectX 9, so we don’t have too many details to share yet. At a high level, our investigation will focus on two areas: performance optimizations and graphics upgrades. While there are some global graphical upgrades we’ll be exploring, most of the improvements would probably come in the form of new tools and functionality that our artists can leverage for future content.

The April 18 update also included an upgrade to Chromium Embedded Framework, the web UI SDK that powers many of the interfaces in the game and sets us up for long-term improvements. Aside from better load times and responsiveness for the menus that leverage the tech, most of the improvements here are invisible to the player. Our engine programming team published a blog that covers the recent upgrade in detail.

World vs. World

The team has continued to mercilessly hammer code into compliance in preparation for the next phase of World Restructuring—the introduction of alliances. That work breaks down into three main categories: 1) wrapping up the server plumbing needed to support alliances (client data management, to be specific), 2) implementing the first pass of the alliance management interface, and 3) fixing bugs related to matchmaking, team assignments, and WvW queues.

We’re targeting early to mid-summer to run the first World Restructuring beta with alliances. Functionality will be straightforward, but it should give guilds and alliances everything they need to manage their communities: creating alliances, inviting guilds, kicking guilds, and leaving. All players that have selected a battle guild in an alliance will be placed on a team together after the World Restructuring event.

Prior to that, we plan to run one more World Restructuring test without alliances so we can test recent fixes to matchmaking, team assignments, queues, and some backend work we’ve done to support the alliances feature. This will be our first multiweek World Restructuring beta test, meaning that we’ll also be able to verify that teams are properly moving into different matchups and tiers using the one-up, one-down system. We’ll follow up with a date for this test once it’s been confirmed.

Expansion 4

You already know all there is to know about the next expansion at this point, but we’d be remiss not to include it in this list. This is one of our top priorities right now, and each day the team is hard at work bringing a new part of Tyria to life, complete with a whole lineup of fearsome baddies for the commander to beat up now that the Elder Dragons are no longer viable punching bags. Here’s a small taste of what we’re cooking up.

Expansion 4

Until Next Time

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to learn about what our team is up to. We’re excited about all the things lining up for the game this year, and we’re glad to be sharing the journey with you.

—The Guild Wars 2 Team