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The future of Guild Wars 2: ArenaNet announces return of Season 1, and teases next expansion

Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons
(Image credit: ArenaNet)
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It's been a few weeks now since Guild Wars 2 launched its third expansion, End of Dragons. Now, in a lengthy post (opens in new tab), ArenaNet has outlined what's next. It's a pretty massive list of upcoming stuff, from the return of the game's first Living World season, to a new story set on a new map in the expansion's Cantha region, and, biggest of all, the confirmation that a fourth expansion will happen.

In addition to rounding up the announcements made in ArenaNet's post, I also got the chance to send some questions to Guild Wars 2's game director, Josh Davis, about what's being teased.

Season 1 returns 

Season 1 introduced the current main cast, including this himbo. (Image credit: ArenaNet)

Currently, there's a gap in Guild Wars 2's story—players skip straight from the vanilla campaign and onto Season 2 of the Living World updates. An NPC in the main city of Lion's Arch summarises the events of Season 1, but, thanks to how it was released—in time-limited updates, many of which were set on the open world map itself—the story itself no longer exists.

This year, ArenaNet is bringing that story back, permanently, and integrating it properly into players' story journals. "We'll be combining the key story moments and experiences of Living World Season 1 into five episodes that will be released throughout 2022," writes ArenaNet in their announcement post. "Our goal is to provide a cohesive bridge between the personal story and Living World Season 2 and give players the opportunity to earn many of the legacy achievements and rewards that have been unavailable all these years."

The first episode—called Flame and Frost—comes out on April 19. Episode 2 will release a month later, on May 24. The season will end with Battle for Lion's Arch—and will introduce a new Strike Mission (and Challenge Mode), presumably based around the titular battle, which, in its original form, was an open-world event set in the ruins of the old version of the city.

As a side note, I asked about the 'Scrying Pool' of the Icebrood Saga, which contains a disparate handful of Season 1 instances. "The rebuilt Season 1 makes the scrying pool versions of missions superfluous," notes game director Josh Davis, "so we'll be phasing those out as the relevant missions become available in the story journal. All related achievements will still be completable through the story journal version."

A new expansion 

I'm skipping straight to the juicy stuff here. In its final reveal, right at the bottom of the post, ArenaNet confirms that there will be a fourth expansion for Guild Wars 2. "This is a very early confirmation (the earliest we've ever done this, in fact), so don't expect news anytime soon," the blog post clarifies, going on to express that expansions "take a very long time to develop". Basically: it will be years before you hear any more on this.

Rather than a traditional announcement, then, this tease seems more designed to reiterate ArenaNet's commitment to Guild Wars 2. After 2017's Path of Fire, the community spent years wondering if there would even be a third expansion—End of Dragons wasn't announced until March 2020. Already, I've seen the community speculate whether End of Dragons would be the game's final expansion, especially as it wraps up Guild Wars 2's main story up to now. Given the context, it makes sense that the studio would confirm, here and now, that there's still more to come.

A new map

Before the next expansion, there will be new story content too. In the post, ArenaNet confirms a new map in the Cantha region—teasing the many directions the story can go now the Elder Dragons have been dealt with.

Does this mean the launch of Season 6 of the Living World, and, if so, when will it arrive given the already announced return of Season 1? "Living World Season 1 is the next Living World Season!" clarifies Davis. "As for what's after Living World Season 1, today we confirmed that a new map and story set in Cantha are in development, and once we're further into Living World Season 1 we'll be back to talk about where we're going next in that mysterious continent."

Steam release 

Taimi is another regular introduced in Season 1. (Image credit: ArenaNet)

Guild Wars 2's Steam release was originally slated for November 2020, but was indefinitely delayed that same month—ArenaNet citing their work on End of Dragons as the reason. With the expansion now released, the studio is again turning their attention to Valve's storefront.

"You only get to launch on Steam once, and we want to make sure we do it right," ArenaNet writes in the post. "Over the coming months we'll be wrapping up work on the Steam integration, cleaning up some aspects of the early game experience, and ensuring that the game and the studio are operationally ready for a new platform launch. We're also working on getting DirectX11 ready to exit beta and making it the default graphics setting for new users."

ArenaNet says it wants the Steam launch to happen this year, although I suspect it won't be until after Season 1 is re-introduced—if you're launching for a new platform, having the full story available seems like a necessity. But there's also more about the 'new player experience' that can be improved given the game's age.

"Back in 2014, we took a 'massive overhaul' approach to revising the new player experience with limited success, and some may argue that the changes made back then didn't do the game any favors," Davis says about the improvements being planned. "This time around, we're primarily looking at making small, incremental changes that add up big improvements over time. Each of these incremental changes are being deployed as an experiment in an "A/B" test format, meaning we'll test the changes in the Live game with a small number of players, study the results, and then decide to make the change permanent, further iterate on it, or remove it from the game. We'll be making these changes every few weeks, with multiple experiments running simultaneously. We'll communicate any permanent additions to the game once they've made it through testing."

Beyond that, Davis also mentions other tweaks to "client performance and some smaller improvements to the core game experience"—but notes that those will be detailed in a couple of months.

Balance updates 

The Catalyst recently felt the nerf hammer. (Image credit: ArenaNet)

Based on what I've seen of the community reaction, End of Dragons release has been mostly positive among the game's players. Aside from some discourse around the difficulty of the expansion's final meta event, the main gripe I've noticed is about profession balance—a frustration that often seems to stem from the community not understanding why ArenaNet is making the changes it does.

In the post, ArenaNet announces a commitment to regular profession updates—announcing a new quarterly update cycle, with smaller releases in between as the meta around each patch takes shape.

I ask what sort of scope players can expect from these. "The quarterly professions update will be focused on revisiting one element for each profession; a weapon, a set of utility skills, or a selection of traits that are key in defining certain builds or functionality in PvE, WvW, or PvP," says Davis. "The extent of the changes will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Some might need minor number tweaks to be viable, and others might need a functional overhaul."

More widely, though, I'm interested in what ArenaNet's end goal is for profession balance—something that's been widely discussed around the recent nerfs to the Elementalist's Catalyst elite specialisation, which many players feel hit too hard.

"When balancing professions and their elite specializations to function in each mode, the key outcome we tune for is for each profession to have a way to contribute with strong value. Ideally, they have multiple builds that work," says Davis. "Speaking to PvE as an example, our core roles for endgame (instanced) party content are DPS, Quickness, Alacrity, and Healing. In this context, GW2's flexible and robust buildcraft allow for a lot of possibilities to, in many combinations, tick two of these boxes at the same time (or pick DPS twice and do more damage!). Generally speaking, a build that is a DPS/support hybrid does about 3/4s the damage of a pure DPS build. Each profession has hybrid and pure DPS builds available among their specializations that are all within close theoretical maximums of comparable builds across other professions for damage output.

"In the last year we've significantly expanded the array of professions and builds which have access to key boon support roles and intend to continue doing so with future updates. The end goal is that a player can play whatever profession they enjoy the most and consider their 'main' in any content, and that they'll have a specialization and build available on that profession that can fit a role needed by their group. When one specialization (or build) ticks too many boxes in a way where it stifles what is seen as broadly viable (or worse, creates an environment of peer pressure to play a profession you don't enjoy, just because it's seen as more optimal for the content), we have to get at the root of the problem causing that pressure, and make changes to keep it from constricting the overall metagame. Catalyst had a problem that needed quick tuning to address—it was both dealing chart-topping DPS and providing 100% quickness uptime for a party simultaneously, and thus was at risk of displacing all other hybrid quickness DPS builds. Our last patch firmed up Catalyst's support build but left the DPS build underperforming our own desires for the specialization, and so it's getting an array of positive changes in the next patch that will shore up its damage-dealing ability, make it perform consistently regardless of target hitbox size, and make the play pattern for optimal skill usage much more accessible and forgiving."

The first major profession update will go live on June 28, although an earlier update targeting PvP and WvW balance will launch on March 29.

Roadmap

ArenaNet has also released the full roadmap for the next three months, giving firm dates to some of the updates mentioned above, as well as the launch of challenge modes for each of the four End of Dragons Strike Missions.

  • March 29: Super Adventure Festival, End of Dragons Polish Build 
  • April 19: Living World Season 1 Episode 1, Aetherblade Hideout Challenge Mode
  • May 10: Xunlai Jade Junkyard Challenge Mode 
  • May 24: Living World Season 1 Episode 2, Kaineng Overlook Challenge Mode, New Legendary Weapon Variant
  • June 7: Dragon Bash Festival, Harvest Temple Challenge Mode
  • June 28: Balance Update, New Legendary Weapon Variant

Finally, there will be new World vs World beta tests and bonus events as the studio returns to the World Restructuring system that will shift the mode away from servers and towards guild alliances. The Restructuring beta is still in the first phase—testing back-end infrastructure for the new system. Once that's complete, though, ArenaNet plans to introduce ways to make World vs World more rewarding for individual players.

As a regular player, I'm happy to see just how much is planned for the coming year and beyond. Across the game's life, there's been plenty of times when a lack of updates has made me wonder just what the future of the game might be. But far from feeling like it's approaching the end of its life, this update makes End of Dragons feel like the start of the next phase of the game's life—one that seems like it will be supported well into the future.

Phil Savage
Editor-in-Chief

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.

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