Today’s entry wasn’t actually supposed to be about Guild Wars 2, but considering the announcement that the first Beta Weekend for everyone who pre-purchased was announced recently, I figured it would be fitting to kick off today with a little trip to the gorgeous world of Tyria.
There are a lot of things to be excited about when it comes to Guild Wars 2, most of which are the things that ArenaNet are trying to do differently to other MMOs and just about all of these have been talked about to death, the lack of a hard trinity, dynamic events and so on and so forth, but there is something far more important than innovative systems that bears discussion; the impact of breaking the traditional MMO mould on the player base.
A large part of Guild Wars 2 potential slice of the player base will have played World of Warcraft or any number of high profile MMO releases since the early two thousands, and while having a broad spectrum of experience is always good, let’s be honest here, they all play quite similarly:
Go to Quest giver A and kick off quest, return with your ten rat tails 5 minutes later, then proceed to Quest giver B.
This formula has been standard fare for quite some time, and it has become ‘the way’ that things are generally done, now we as human beings are by nature creatures of habit, and when something comes along that threatens to change that, we are always a little sceptic, like dear old Clifford Stoll when he in 1995 baldly proclaimed that the internet would never catch on (yes, it’s real, it was in Newsweek). http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2010/02/27/newsweek-1995-buy-books-newspapers-straight-intenet-uh/
Guild Wars 2 threatens to do away with the tried and tested formula of ‘organised’ questing as we know it, instead sporting dynamic events on set timers and with multiple outcomes/branches depending on player interaction. Now some of these are indeed marked on your map in the form of ‘Hearts’, but at no time is it necessary to talk to any NPC to get a quest/event, you simply walk into the area and start participating, also worth noting is that there is no hand-in either, once the event requirements have been met, you’re awarded with Gold, Karma points and what not based on your level of participation. And here is the real kicker; far from every event is marked on your map, which means exploration into every nook and cranny is encouraged, if not to some extent required if you are of the completionist frame of mind like me.
The question is, how will the majority of the player base react to this design choice? Bearing in mind, those of us who frequently read forums, watch youtube videos and generally suck in every bit of info that we can find, are generally a minority, your average joe gamer is not likely to have poured the amount of attention into this game that we have.
I predict a fair few people will feel very confused once their toon spawns in their race’s designated starting area, I recall watching a video from the very first Press Beta Event, and someone asked in general chat where the quest givers were.
While ANet have done their best to alleviate this by inserting an NPC that feverishly waves its arms at the player just as they spawn with instructions on where to go, there are bound to be players who will be put off by the lack of ‘pathing’ that we generally see in most MMOs, some people like hand-holding, and it is genuinely difficult to be weaned off the spoon feeding wagon we’ve all been on for the last 7 years.
From a personal point of view, I welcome this change, while it does not feel radically different, it does provide enough of a change that one does not feel like you have just been placed in a zone to do things for the sake of doing them, you do them because they are engaging and the process and transition between them is fluid from the get go. It makes the world seem far more alive than any other MMO at this point in time, and those who truly embrace the at times chaotic nature and non-linear progression that the DEs offer, will feel duly rewarded, however if linear and methodical questing is your kind of thing, you might start to struggle a little bit at first, so my advice is; take your old minds-set of structured questing, and leave it at the door, embrace the living, breathing world of Tyria.
Another point of contention, and something that has seen heated debate around the internet, is the scrapping of a hard trinity. By that, I refer to the Holy Trinity of class roles which has been the foundation of most MMOs group content up until now. In order to be successful, you would need a ‘Tank’, a ‘Healer’ and typically three ‘Damage Dealers’ with assorted crowd control skills thrown into the mix (having a mage in Vanilla WoW was almost a must).
While this setup is logical, it is also quite limiting for the players. In order to start having fun, you have to a particular group composition, depending on the server population finding a good tank or healer has often been an arduous task, in part because very few people used to gravitate towards those playstyles. In vanilla WoW, Protection specced warriors and Holy Priests were rare enough that people would actually pay them to come with their group to their designated dungeon.
Anet’s philosophy on this matter is that it is not fair to expect players to feel obligated to play one class over the other; each player should be able to play the class they truly want, and not wait to have fun because a certain class is needed. To that end, every class in Guild Wars 2 has defensive support abilities and a self-heal, you are the keeper of your own health and no class can effectively ‘tank’ in the traditional sense of the word. Everyone will have to at some point take on defensive duties through support abilities such as knockdowns, stuns, snares or short term damage mitigation such as shields. What this does is, it allows for a group of any given composition to succeed, provided that they play to the best of their abilities and in tandem with one another.
This concept will likely be the toughest mental hurdle for most people to get over, as someone playing a warrior will inadvertently through sheer instinct seek to stay in the enemies face and try and keep the aggro off squishier party members, a tactic that is proven to work well in most other MMOs, a tactic that will get you killed very quickly in Guild Wars 2.
I fully expect many groups to initially fail as they set foot in the Ascalon Catacombs for the first time at around level 30, simply because the trinity is such an embedded part of most MMO vets mind-set, myself included, and it will take a lot of getting used to this new combat system, where everyone is able to do everything to some extent, and it does create a sense of complete chaos at first, but there is a method to the madness, the question is how many people will persist with trying and not give up? The real kicker to this system is that it is in many ways a lot less forgiving than most of us are used to, perhaps especially so if you are coming from a WoW background.
In WoW it’s entirely possibly for a group of three people to ‘carry’ the remaining two members of their dungeon group if they are not up to scratch in terms of skill or gear, especially if you have a good healer and tank, but the added emphasis on your own analytical skills and reading the fight, and thus using the right abilities at the right time is what is going to make or break the groups in Guild Wars 2. A Necromancer who does not clear conditions (DoTs/Debuffs) off of his allies, or a Guardian who does not reflect the projectiles from the boss back at it whilst shielding the group is a bad player.
It is as simple as that, those are the kind of abilities that traditional ‘dps’ classes from other games are not used to having, much less using, even if they do have something along those lines because the healer/tank is supposed to handle that.
Awareness and adaptability is what will ultimately impact your direct success in group content, so if you are used to playing a ‘pure’ dps class in whatever MMO you are currently playing, get ready for a rude awakening, you are expected to perform these defensive duties as well, and if you don’t, well I guess we won’t be grouping together.
The final part of what I believe most people might struggle with is: Boredom.
Now, don’t get me wrong here, Guild Wars 2 looks like it has a myriad of zones and a proverbial plethora of content from start to finish, but the thing is, there isn’t really a finish. There is no end-game.
Anet has stated that ‘The game is the end-game’ which might be a bit of a controversial statement in and of itself. The most prevalent design decision in MMOs, almost from the get-go, has been that the game truly starts at max level. Not Guild Wars 2.
Guild Wars 2 sports 80 levels of character progression, you earn skill points, unlock new skills through use of different weapon types, earn trait points to unlock passive bonuses that ultimately impacts your play-style, in WoW terms, it’s your talent points.
When Anet says that the game is the end game, they are dead serious, there is no end-game raiding, or tiered gear/progression check – the content you do at 80 is essentially all the content you did (or didn’t do) on your way to max level. The way it effectively works is that once your character hits max level, whenever you go back to a previously visited area (or non-visited area for that matter) you are automatically scaled down, in order for the area to still present somewhat of a challenge for you, and with lots of collectables available for hoarding, this is definitely something people will be doing. Did I mention that Guild Wars 2 does not do gear progression in the traditional sense either?
That’s right, Guild Wars 2 gear is fairly standardized to keep the emphasis on skill being far more important than the gear you wear, when you assemble your team to dive into the dungeons, you are not taking the gear of a character down there, you are taking the player, and that is going to make all the difference. For those of you wondering where your motivation to run a hard dungeon if you do not get amazingly powerful gear out of it is going to come from, here is your reason: Hard tasks are rewarded with vanity items, and that is where the prestige will be for the majority of players. Costumes (skins that fit over your existing gear) and vanity items are what will set the best players apart from the rest, not their gear, because gear is irrelevant, and skill is everything.
Are vanity items enough to satisfy the players who are used to strutting around in their raid epics? I hope so, those vanity items will quickly gain the same sort of status as the Hammer of Ragnaros or Thunderfury in vanilla WoW, perhaps even more prestigious as it won’t be dependent on lucky drops or time spent farming for something, your appearance and vanity items are in direct correlation with your (perceived) skill level, and isn’t that really the biggest ePeen of them all?
This is of course only the PvE side of things, there is a meaty PvP side to Guild Wars 2 as well, which I will likely cover in my next rant, so I am going to leave it here for the time being.
The real test for Guild Wars 2 is ultimately not going to be in the amount of content it will offer, or its core systems – the real test is going to be how well it manages to make believers out of a player base that has been indoctrinated for a number of years on how an MMO ‘should be’, it is a given that Guild Wars 2 will not appeal to everyone, it does things differently and that approach won’t resonate with every player out there, but if you are a jaded MMO player like myself, or perhaps a new player who is tempted by the lack of subscription fee, give it a go – but leave everything you think you know about MMO conventions at the door, and enter Tyria with an open mind.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out ArenaNet’s Manifesto video.