I am an avid MMOG player. Right now, installed on my system, are 8 different MMOGs. I have active
subscriptions for 3 of them, and 3 more are free-to-play. Living this online lifestyle means that I also pay attention to a lot of news, by
necessity, across the entire industry.
So imagine my shock, dismay and embarrassment when I began to notice a growing blind spot in
my peripheral vision, in regards to tracking a very prominent title currently under development by a well-known company.
When this game was first announced, it was barely a blip on my radar. ArenaNet's first game of this franchise barely qualified as an MMOG at
all, and didn't offer enough promise to draw me away from the games I was already addicted to when it hit retail shelves. So when a sequel
was announced, my personal reaction was a combination of "yawn" and "meh."
But, I'm not too proud to admit when I'm wrong.
Over the years since that initial announcement, GW2 has gained an avid following, the likes of which few MMOGs in development are fortunate
enough to experience. The features and mechanics being announced and demonstrated by ArenaNet have astounded and delighted audiences with
each new video feature or trade show demonstration. And I've been missing it all by being a stubborn-headed naysayer.
At the insistence of a few of my fellow gamers, I recently took the initiative to learn all that I could about the title that is rekindling hope and
hype across the entire MMOG industry, and find out what's so exciting about it that everybody talks as if it's the Second Coming. The
information I've gleaned from various articles, press releases, editorials, video blogs and more, has turned my opinion of this game
This is a game that deserves to be watched closely. It will be a success, and it will reshape the industry as we know it.
I know that sounds like an incredibly bold statement, but I'm about to tell you why it's true.
"ArenaNet was founded to innovate."
It's easy to say that you're going to do something new. Avid fans of the MMOG industry are used to being told that each new title will be
incredibly innovative and break new ground in a thousand different ways. But at the end of the day, none of us can deny that practically
every title that has come out over the past 4-5 years has started to feel a bit ... same-ey.
Quest logs, fetch missions, instanced dungeons, static NPCs, hotbar racks, trash loot, subpar crafting,
limiting class archetypes, level grinds, gear grinds, repetitive content...
The list goes on and on, and I'm willing to bet that each of us is a bit tired of it, to some degree or another. So when
ArenaNet's President, Mike O' Brien, stepped forward with the aforementioned quote, gamers everywhere stopped and took notice. And
they started to hope.
Innovation is a tricky business. Changing something, just for the sake of being different, is not guaranteed to
yield positive results. We've seen numerous titles fail in this industry, simply because they tried thinking outside the box without
actually trying to understand their customers wants and needs. It's also extremely risky because even though many of us may have grown
weary of the industry's drift toward becoming a clone army, another portion of the audience (perhaps the majority, even) enjoy the
familiarity that this breeds by lowering or eliminating the learning curve on new games.
As I discuss some of the specific features that GW2 is innovating on within this article, it's important to
understand that ArenaNet does not seem to be making these sweeping changes simply because they can. This game is not a social experiment
or an unfinished project to be tweaked based on player reactions. Every innovation - every change - is being made with purpose and forethought.
And every last one of them is intended to elevate the MMOG player's experience from a series of grindy, mundane, repetitive presses of a
button up to the status of an interactive fantasy epic that immerses you completely in the world you're experiencing.
BE THE HERO
The modern MMO has lost the ability to make the player feel like a hero. It
doesn't care that I'm there."
In GW2, you are not a random orc shaman with a healing spec, or a human knight specialized in mounted combat. You are Joe. Or Bob. Or Aleuisis
Goldenhorn of the Glens of Gorganoraothi.
The point I'm trying to make here is that who you are in GW2 is what defines your character's progression. Not your class, equipment or skills. And this
is made clear right from the moment of character creation, when you will be introduced to a series of background questions that will
determine your character's attitude, aptitude and how he (or she) ended up where they are when the game begins. These choices are presented in
the form of a biography that will continue to grow as you progress down a personalized storyline that is custom tailored to the choices you just made.
And each time you progress down this personalized story, you will make more choices. Do you save the local noble from a
band of kidnappers, or help the servants of his keep escape from his wicked reign while he's captured? Save the orphanage from a rampaging
fire, or the hospital?
Every choice you make will have a continuing impact on your character in many ways. The interaction you
have with other NPCs will be altered by past choices, leading your character to act in chivalrous ways, or sadistic ones. Each character
will also have a "home" instance (much larger than a single indoor room) that will also reflect the choices they have made along their
travels. And subsequent storylines are chained together in such a way that each choice is affected by the ones you made before it. If you
didn't rescue that noble, then he'll never be able to ask for your assistance in resolving a labor dispute with the local farmers, but one
of the rescued servants may instead ask for your aid in escorting a traveling caravan to the next region.
This very real case of cause-and-effect will have a deep effect on the experience that every
player has in GW2. First and foremost, the replayability value for those that enjoy having several different characters positively
skyrockets! But additionally, there's something to be said for being able to share your personal version of a story with your friends, that
none of them may have heard before. Discovering the ways in which these many stories interact also offers a special reward for explorers and
completists, as they wrap their minds around the vast array of possibilities.
But more importantly than any of that, is one simple result: You are the hero of your own story. And even though you
will be adventuring alongside other heroes at times, you will still be experiencing a personalized story that focuses on building YOU into a
legend. Never before has this been possible in an MMOG.
EXPERIENCE A LIVING WORLD
"Most games have really fun tasks that you get to do occasionally, and the
rest of the game is a boring grind to get to the fun stuff. We don't think that's OK."
Does this scenario sound familiar?
- Farmer: Brave adventurer, you must save me! My family and I will be eaten by wolves if you don't kill 20 of them.
- Player: You mean those seemingly benign creatures foraging in the nearby field?
- Farmer: Yes! They are vicious killers threatening me and my family. O woe is me if all 20 of them are not killed.
- Player: But there are only like 8 of them.
- Farmer: They'll respawn, fear not.
- Player: So why does it matter how many I kill, since they'll come right back and continue "menacing" you by standing around in that field?
This has become the standard for questing in the modern MMOG. It is also completely unacceptable.
GW2 has completely removed quests of this nature, and replaced nearly 100% of the game's content with a system of dynamic events that will play
out all over the world your characters will explore. Some events will be relatively isolated to a small area, while others will have sweeping
consequences that can alter the gameplay in an entire region. And each of these more than 1,000 dynamic events currently implemented in the
game will be part of branching objective chains that offer different outcomes and rewards based on the actions of players participating in
them. Will you drive off an invading force, or fail to turn them away? And if you fail, can you rally the troops of a nearby city to assist in
breaking the siege? And if that fails, can you prevent the enemy from further entrenching themselves, by building siege weaponry?
The entire world will be driven by these living series of events. Each will eventually reset of course, so that another group of players can
experience them, but the chains are reportedly quite lengthy and involved. It's entirely plausible that two characters leveling up in
the same area may experience two completely different series of events in the area during their adventures. This change has removed the grind
from playing, and brought exploration to the forefront of the character's heroic experience. Instead of delivering packages for
innkeepers' assistants and collecting gray bear tongues, you will be bravely forging ahead to carve your own destiny in a world that takes
shape around your actions.
To further enhance the experience of these events on a social level, ArenaNet claims to have one of the
smartest scaling systems seen in any MMOG to date. Not content to merely count the number of players in an event's area of influence,
this system will actually measure out metrics on the level of involvement for every character nearby. And if someone is AFK near an
active event, they will be disregarded by the algorithms that control the spawning of additional enemies, and receive no reward if the task
is successful. In the meantime, those actively participating in the event will receive graded rewards based on their level of involvement.
The top tier (gold) is easily achieved by adventurers dedicated to the task at hand, while silver and bronze rewards can still be earned by
players that pass through and briefly assist.
There is no formof kill stealing, and every player that contributes to a particular victory is eligible for rewards. And since the scaling AI is
intelligent enough to keep encounters fun and challenging regardless of the number of players involved, it will always be the case where you
will be happy to see other players join you in your task. It will never be a burden, and they will never be an interference or a distraction.
In every way, a fellow adventurer in the field, is a friend.
MAKE A FRIEND
"It's about who you WANT play with, not who you HAVE to play with."
Socialization and community are aspects of MMOGs that rarely exist to the same degree in other types of games. To that end, you would think that it's a
no-brainer for an MMOG developer to focus heavily on reinforcing player interaction, and ensuring that those interactions are a positive
experience. But, sadly, we all know that has not proven to be the case in every MMOG. Negative interaction with fellow players and community
members is perhaps the #1 detriment to the genre as a whole, and is frequently a direct result of mechanics and choices made by the
developer of the game itself.
This is why it comes as a breath of fresh air to hear ArenaNet making a commitment to implementing a whole keg full of social improvements aimed at bringing players
together into a cohesive and open community that supports its fellow players, and thrives off of its own existence.
I've already mentioned the ways in which dynamic event scaling function to bring people together, but I can take it a step further. Suppose a level 80
character wishes to come back and slum it in the areas he grew up in? Instead of suddenly throwing a curve ball at the scale of all the local
dynamic events, and generally strutting around like a demigod, GW2 will be implementing a sidekicking feature that is driven directly by the
adventuring area the player is in, and cannot be turned off. So when that level 80 comes to visit a level 10 region, he will be operating as
if he was a level 10 hero, in most regards.
This serves many purposes on the social front. First, it allows players to avoid being griefed by higher level players throwing off event scaling. Secondly,
it allows a high level character to explore the world freely, and experience new dynamic events as they unfold in regions they haven't
yet been to, even if those areas would be considered beneath them in progression. And of course, it allows high level characters to
seamlessly interact with friends that may be a lower level than them, without requiring a complicated series of command flags, or staying
within arms' reach of one another, or any other silly restrictions.
If all of your friends happen to be just as uber as you are, then you are the perfect candidate to undertake some of the many dungeon instances
that GW2 will offer. Every dungeon in the game offers a "story mode" that is easy to complete with random PUGs, and completion of this mode
unlocks a repeatable mode that is intended for cohesive teams of well-honed killing machines. Players that thrive on figuring out the
ins and outs of class mechanics and interactions will revel in the group-scaled challenge of these repeatable dungeon modes, as well as
receiving incentive to run them repeatedly, since each will offer a series of branching objectives that cause every dungeon to have several
different outcomes available. Bored with doing a dungeon one way? Make a different decision, and see what happens!
As for who you bring with you on these excursions, that choice is being firmly placed back into the hands of the players. Every class in GW2 is being given the
option, through different weapon sets and skill selections, to fill any role in combat. No longer will you be restricted by the "golden triad"
of tank/heal/dps, and forced to say no to a friend that wants to come along because his class' role has already been taken in the group.
Instead, every player will be capable of performing as a contributing member of battle, regardless of their class. The specifics of these
abilities remain to be seen, and I suspect there will still be certain classes that excel at certain things, but the goal is a worthy one from
a social standpoint. If the implementation is successful, players of GW2 will be able to divorce themselves from the concept of balancing
their social interactions based on game mechanics, or limiting their own choices on how to enjoy the game based on the necessity for certain
classes to fill certain roles in combat.
Social interaction doesn't stop at killing things and taking their stuff, though. You also need a way to effectively sell your trophies to other players! GW2's
marketplace will offer all the functionality of a traditional MMOG auction house, while also including an additional ability for players
to place bids on items that are not currently up for sale! In other words, if I'm seeking a Golden Widget of Doom and there aren't any at
the market, I can instead place a bid saying that my character would like to purchase a Golden Widget of Doom and is paying 1,000 quatloos
for it. My fellow players may then browse bids such as these and either offer to sell me their Golden Widget of Doom for the agreed price, or
go retrieve one from the nearby Cave of Widgets and return to reap their just reward from my widget-coveting hands.
And if running dynamic events filled with computer-controlled enemies and allies just isn't your speed, maybe you'd like to spend a few minutes stabbing your
fellow players' eyes out? Have no fear, because the inclusion of a "Hot Join" queuing system will allow you to leap into all the bloody action
of PvP at a moment's notice. Rather than focus on pre-arranged matches (there is also a 5v5 arena system, rated and unrated), players can pull
up a list of all currently-active PvP arenas in an interface similar to what one might see in a FPS like Counter-Strike or Quake, review all
the details of each match, and instantly join any of the matches in progress. Fast action, right when you want it if that's your form of
And when you tire of combat altogether, there are also ongoing mini-games in most major social hubs, such as a perpetual
bar brawl fought with chairs and bottles, or a keg-tossing competition that plays like a combination of football, soccer and basketball. These
ongoing events allow you to compete with friends and strangers to achieve the best possible score in a fun, social atmosphere that sounds
like a great way to unwind after a tough day of killing the local wildlife. And they have rewards, too!
Interaction will also step outside the bounds of the game itself through a series of mobile apps and functions that will enable "offline" gamers to still participate
with the world of GW2 in small ways. This could be as simple as chat functions that send messages to/from the game servers, to wiki browsing
for new equipment and events and sending that info to your adventuring buddies online. There's even talk of sending map pings to in-game
friends from your smartphone or tablet. Talk about being connected!
WATCH THE ACTION, NOT YOUR HOTBARS
I swung a sword. I swung a sword again. Hey, I swung it again! Thats great "
GW2 will feature a system of "active combat" that places a heavy emphasis on movement and positioning, and takes your eyes away from babysitting
rows and rows of cooldowns and specialized maneuvers that you only use once every 20 hours of gameplay. Through a combination of different
combat-related features and mechanics, the makers of this game are attempting to create a much more immersive and intuitive combat that
will help players feel more like they're in control of the action, rather than playing whack-a-mole with timers and health bars.
I mentioned before about the social aspects of each class being able to fill any role in combat, but this actually goes even further when you
get into the concept of power interaction. Using several abilities, such as area-effect elemental spells, may offer the opportunity for
your teammates to enhance their own abilities. If you lay down a wall of flame to protect your party from an oncoming charge, not only will
you deal flame damage to any would-be attackers, but if your teammates fire projectiles at the enemy through that flame wall, they will catch on fire!
This is also just one small example of how positioning is important in the game, as paying attention to the placement of
abilities that can enhance your combat powers is vital to success. For the highly mobile Thief class, movement may also turn out to be an
intrinsic requirement to their success in battle, as video demonstrations have shown the player dashing in and out of combat to
avoid blows, and circling around enemies to dodge attacks and spell effects.
Dodging and moving in combat are core features of this active combat system. So much so that a fatigue bar has had to be
introduced in order to prevent highly-skilled players from over-using such tactics. Clearly, if moving too much was causing an "I Win Button"
scenario, then it's not to be ignored in the thick of combat.
This is especially true where projectiles are concerned. Unlike the standard MMOG trope of homing projectiles being fired from every weapon, wand
and spell in existence, GW2 actually offers the opportunity to dodge and weave out of the way of many incoming range attacks. Projectiles
will actually include collision physics that will cause arrows to collide with intervening enemies between you and your target, while
also allowing them to completely dodge incoming fire.
In order to help facilitate this quick-moving and highly mobile form of combat, the combat UI for GW2 is extremely simple and includes only 10 ability
slots in the main display that are available at any particular time. While this may at first seem extremely limiting, the result is actually
an excellent balance of combat utility, and being able to ignore the UI completely. A few classy visual cues have been added to indicate what
amounts to cooldown mechanics, easily seen from the corner of your eye while you focus on out-maneuvering your wily opponents. And instead of
forcing you to babysit a complicated set of cooldowns and reactive abilities, combat is being tuned in such a way that standing toe-to-toe
with the enemy and mashing your buttons is just as likely to result in your death, as it is in theirs. And so even though you may be able to
activate your ability as frequently as you like, spamming it is supposedly inviting disaster.
ADMIRE ITS RADIANT BEAUTY
Everything in our world feels hand-crafted and artisanal. We treat the environments as if they are characters.
Eschewing the modern trend of aiming for photorealism, GW2 has instead chosen to embrace the artistic merit of a "painterly" visual style. From textures
to environments, the goal of the visual aspects of the game is to portray the world as a living painting.
Cutscenes and cinematics are especially evocative of this style, frequently incorporating the actual concept art that has been created by the ArenaNet team directly
into the visuals that float dreamily across your screen while the stories are being told to you.
Two members of ArenaNet's art team were recently honored with Gold Medals from the acclaimed art book
publisher, Spectrum 18. Additionally, ArenaNet regularly features the
work their artists create on their site, and on various wikis around the web.
The quotes above were all taken from a series of panels hosted by ArenaNet at PAX East 2011. Links to the videos of that panel, as well as other
informational links, are included at the end of this article.
If you've read this far, I think the point has been made: This game is poised to make a major splash in the industry. Both gamers, and other
developers, had better step up and take notice, before they are left behind.
- Official Homepage: http://www.guildwars2.com/en/
- Official Wiki: http://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/Guild_Wars_2
- TenTonHammer's Guild Wars 2 Community Site: http://www.tentonhammer.com/gw2
- PAX East Panel Videos: http://www.arena.net/blog/video-the-guild-wars-2-pax-east-panel
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Guild Wars 2 Game Page.