I’ve written a couple of times on the direction of the living story, and my overall conclusion is that a lot of the problems people have had with it — mostly temporary activities and a thin amount of actual story content — come back to ArenaNet’s decision to get reoccurring events designed, built and out of the way while restructuring the live teams to deliver updates on a two-week cycle. We know that the four living world teams are a small part of ANet’s overall development force, and that there are other teams working on long-term projects behind the scenes. The ability to create and share missions is too great a selling point to shut completely behind the subscriber paywall (I would hope). Unless a free-to-play STO were to restrict non-subscribers to a single character slot, I can’t see this being a point of contention. In short, ArenaNet has convinced players — certainly without meaning to — that we have nothing earth-shattering to look forward to in the immediate future at just about the point where we’ve collectively started to get hungry for a big upheaval of scenery and pace. As of right now, the pace of the story is on the slow side (although the writing team is in the process of addressing that), and the size of content releases have been on the small side.
It might seem nuts to complain about lacking an expansion for a game where content releases happen every two weeks, but for some reason the GW2 community seems to be feelin’ that vibe lately. I think players are assuming — and not without reason — that we won’t see much of that stuff until Scarlet’s story arc has come to a conclusion, and that probably explains some of the impatience with it. The biggest reason for players to feel let down is that ArenaNet and NCsoft’s comments on the subject of an expansion have reinforced the idea that many of the expansion-level features fans are looking forward to aren’t even close to being on the horizon. That probably contributed quite a bit to the somewhat disjointed feeling of it; the developers needed to create a bunch of festivals, but the story team also needed to introduce the major characters and villains, and that led to a summer in which it started to feel like the people of Tyria were constantly and brazenly throwing parties in an attempt to taunt bad guys into attacking them. It’s entirely possible that I feel this way because I’m too used to expansions to know any better; free expansion-level content would be a pretty big deal in an MMO of GW2’s size (for certain values of “free”; I’ve got a crippling makeover kit habit that regularly drains me of both gems and dignity).
Maybe free players would be able to create missions using limited item or NPC sets, or even using limited gameplay mechanics. Whatever systems would allow for reviewing and sharing missions certainly would be restricted — maybe non-subscribers wouldn’t be able to share missions at all. It’s far more likely that the simplest answer is true: that the developers do have some new landmasses, races, or systems in development, but that those things are so far out from being ready that ArenaNet can take their time in deciding which form they’d like to release them in. Simply put, CO has nothing like STO’s upcoming user-generated-content tools. Adding a new race in particular seems like the kind of undertaking that would demand its own story arc. The Center’s closest lieutenant is Arakhn, the leader of the Nictus race. At the start of the living story updates, lore-based speculation was rampant; that’s dropped off quite a bit as the content we’ve gotten has consistently introduced new story elements and shown every sign of concentrating primarily on Scarlet and her crew. Don’t get me wrong; as non-expansion updates for an MMO go we’ve gotten a huge amount of balancing, quality of life additions, cosmetic doohickeys, and general awesomeness.
The balance changes make tooling around on a lowbie character painless, video game outfits but I have some reservations about how it might affect downscaling since level 80 characters could already kill low-level mobs by sneezing vigorously in their general direction. But geeks in general are good at justifying poor behavior if they get what they want; just ask the hackers and file-swappers. Get the job done right when you shop occupation costumes for men! I knew it existed but never thought I would get to experience cosplay for myself. The folks at Cryptic could encounter trouble if they bundle too many popular mission storylines into purchaseable “adventure packs,” but the CO beta experience will give them a good idea of how to balance that give-and-take. I think my favourite in-game titles would be the really random corporate titles we give each other in EVE. Hm. Once CO makes the switch, silver players will receive limited or restricted (Cryptic’s distinction, not mine) access to chat, guild creation, forum access and in-game mail. But the restrictions could be limited by level more than anything else to prevent too much excessive abuse by gold-sellers (credit-sellers?). Earning full access to chat and mail after, say, hitting level 10 wouldn’t be so bad.