I might be a big Guild Wars 2 booster, but I'd be lying if I said the game hasn't been foundering in terms of post-launch content. Instead of creating traditional expansions, the Guild Wars 2 team has dedicated itself to releasing small “Living World” updates every couple weeks. While this is a good idea in theory, the first year's worth of Living World updates were frustratingly temporary, discombobulated and grindy.
Thankfully, ArenaNet's developers have been listening to fan feedback, and we've seen the result in Gates of Maguuma, the first Living World update in the game's second season. This update sets a great tone for Season 2 and addresses many of the complaints that players leveled against Season 1.
For starters, unlike the temporary content of Season 1, Season 2's story has been organized into a series of missions that can be replayed at any time by anybody who has unlocked them. You simply need to log in during the two-week period that any update is live to unlock its story permanently. Players who miss an update will have to pay 200 gems (the Guild Wars 2 “real money” currency) to unlock it, which I feel is a bit money-grubbing on the part of the developers, but at least past updates are now accessible.
The new story missions are much easier to follow, as well. Unlike the slapdash manner in which Season 1's updates were presented to players, Season 2 uses on-screen prompts to guide the player through its main quest line so that nobody has to log in and wonder where the heck to go or what to do next in order to experience the new content. There's still plenty of exploration and discovery available in this first update, which gives players the new open world zone of Dry Top in which to adventure, but it's easy to figure out where the main story begins and ends.
The best improvement that this first Season 2 update gives us is the reduction in grind-type activities needed to fully enjoy the content. Throughout Season 1, players who wanted to be rewarded for completing the content had to complete meta-achievements which often required many repetitive activities. Combine that repetition with the limited availability of the rewards, and many players found themselves dropping out or feeling exhausted with the game.
Season 2 has no meta-achievements. Instead, new regions like Dry Top have a series of optional achievements to complete for fun (and achievement points). The story missions provide a series of challenging achievements that can be completed by replaying them and meeting various (spelled-out) goals. These challenge achievements reward the player with some nice goodie boxes, but as of this update none of the things they reward are unique. This is in line with the game's philosophy that players should feel free to play their own way.
It's difficult to overstate how welcome it is to have a new zone to explore, as well. The world of Guild Wars 2 has always been one of the game's strong suits, appealing greatly to players who enjoy exploration. Season 1 added almost no new exploration-based content to the game, and players were becoming awfully weary of seeing formerly pretty areas become destroyed or befouled in the name of a “living world.” It's so much nicer to be able to explore something truly new, and it looks like more zones will be added as the season goes on.
The first story missions in Season 2 are fun, especially with friends, and do a good job building up a mystery that the players and major NPC characters will be solving this season. The Dry Top zone presents players with a ton of new events to play through, jumping challenges and scavenger hunts to engage in, and secrets to unearth. If ArenaNet can keep up this level of novelty and quality this year, Guild Wars 2 can turn around and have an end-game that's worth playing.