Guild Wars 2's Lack of a Substantial Carrot on the Stick
Our very own Lewis recently discussed a bit about Guild Wars 2 missing "Guild Wars" (GvG) and how he's okay with it. I want to say that I sort of disagree, not directly with Lewis (I am okay too with no GvG in GW2), but with the concept that GW2 needs something like GvG and has needed it since launch. Every MMO needs a "GvG" in some capacity or another, it needs a defining goal that all other subsystems route into. This is known as a carrot on a stick which is saying it's the goal that chase but can never reach.
In the original Guild Wars, the defining game mechanic is GvG and every single part of the game is focused purely on it. To help players who were either more solo oriented or preferred smaller teams, an alterative in the form of the Hall of Heroes is available, but we'll assume that GvG includes HoH, since they're mechanically similar, and one is the alternative to the other. The "carrot" was the GvG leaderboards OR winning HoH and having your guild/name advertised server wide. These were very big goals that the entire game was working towards.
In GW2, the end game is waiting for updates to come, chewing through a little bit of content, and putting the game down until more updates come. WvW is novel, but I haven't found ever a reason to do it. The mists is fun, the various PvP modes are nice, but they're not anything unique, nor do they offer anything of any value to the game outside of a something to do. The only carrot, for me at least, is legendary weapons, which is what every game mechanic funnels into. Legendary weapons are almost unobtainable weapons that only truly dedicated players can obtain (and I would say "or at least those willing to login and play a ton" but I consider those to be dedicated, yes, really, dedicated players are the only ones who can truly touch legendary weapons).
DAoC's big thing was RvR and there was a huge reward for doing it. WoW's big thing was raiding, with a huge reward for doing it (that isn't to discredit other games raiding, but the raids were not nearly as defined, scripted, or accessible). EQ's big thing was the entire package, the sitting at home at 8:30 PM drinking a sweet tea while typing to your guildmates about how terrible your day was and having a huge 'ol hug fest while waiting on your mana to regen. Everyone was working toward their class set or obtaining gear that was very hard to obtain, but very much necessary for your character's growth. Obtaining gear and powerful for some game mode is the predominate process we play most MMOs by.
In GW2, the thing that I feel is its unique claim to fame is legendary weapons. These huge epic tasks that require a ton of work and a ton of money to pull off (in real life terms it's somewhere around 500 to a grand to buy), which is great, but I feel like EQ and co did it better with your epic class set, that was literally an epic class set, and it has way more prestige than a legendary which most people assume was bought during one of the rare times that you could use real money to pull a legendary off cheaply due to some kind of weird exploit in the economy.
I'm a big proponent for not balancing a game and where GW2 came up short was the sort of perfect balance they struck where everything in the game is literally optional, from leveling, to dungeons, to even PvP. The entire game can be played sitting in town and talking to NPCs and running and circles and you're still well, playing the game.
I love GW2 and I think it's great, but I'm writing this because I don't ever feel like playing it, even though it's great and a fun game, it's just got nothing attracting me to login. Something that is fun and great and awesome doesn't necessarily have a ton of replay value, and this is an exploration of why. While it may read at certain points that I take a negative stance against the game, I just want to clearly outline that this discussion is looking why I think the replay value or the carrot on the stick isn't that great and why I think this is just a core design flaw and it's totally okay, but it's just a clear observation I've made.
Why GvG Worked
GvG worked because it brought together every one of the games mechanics into one final goal with an alternative goal of the HoH for more casual guilds or guilds that couldn't field the full party to GvG it up. You start the game with two choices, jump straight into PvP and play with a PvP only character with a preset build or level up a character, who would gain skill unlocks through variuos quests in the world. As you explore the world, you unlock more skills, until you hit level 20 at which points you can PvP on your PvE character, which is highly desired for the ability to bring cool swag to the field, but even more importantly, it works as a generator of skills and unlocks for PvP.
So when your guild comes up with a new build, you'll need some skills you might not have. That week before your big GvG / HoH sessions, you would roll around the world and farm the skill unlocks. This might require a subclass quest or maybe a group to go do something cool somewhere no one ever goes. This could take anywhere from ten minutes to an entire day to get one skill, which is great, because it's something to do.
You farmed up ecto and shards in order to get prestige gear, one of the various prestige gear options, and in order to go into GvG/HoH looking like a hero. It's optional, to a point, but desirable because it is so rare to see it. Even if you don't farm gear, you're still going to farm unlocks and dyes, which is what the entire point of this article is about - the general idea that you need these boring and odd tasks to make a game stick to your ribs.
Examples of Great Goals
WildStar is great, it's a ton of fun, but fun doesn't mean you get attached to something. You can get the entire WildStar experience within the first 20 levels. Leveling past that doesn't unlock anything of value or change gameplay at all. When you hit max level, there isn't much for you to do, outside of an insanely complicated and pointless attunement system that the entire community voted as worst design decision ever about six or seven years ago that lets you get into some raids, which is alright, but gear doesn't have that huge of an impact on the game.
I would go literally healing in tanking gear, stacking nothing but health, and I would still heal for as much as if I was in normal every day gear. So without the desire for super overpowered gear and without some kind of goal, some kind of collective idea on what everyone is supposed to do collectively, there isn't a ton of a reason to play.
Which sucks, because there is this entire history of games that are insanely fun to play, but there isn't a reason to play them. There is always a reason to play WoW, when an expansion or patch comes out, because there is a wealth of content in various directions that all ties into this ultimate goal of obtaining loot that is superior to others in order to win against them in PvP or in some Internet D8#* waving contest. Personally, it gives me a headache when I think of games that are REALLY fun, but provide no motivation beyond the "fun" which gets old fast. MMOs aren't about fun, they're about getting you to play with other Human beings, and you create your own fun through social interaction in addition to the game.
I feel that in GW2, what everything funnels into is "Legendary Weapons." These Legendary Weapons require massive amounts of resources, playtime, and commitment and owners of these legendary weapons are considered to have the only true prestige item in the game. You do PvP, PvE, and even login every day in order to just work toward the eventual goal of owning a legendary. Which is great on paper, but for me, owning a single weapon skin isn't really that attractive an idea, especially when there is a lot of cool skins you can buy or just naturally exist in the game.
In WoW, for instance, obtaining weapons improves your damage output, and they're very desirable for both PvE and PvP, and it provides a big motivation to do both modes, either to get a arena weapon or to secure a high end raid weapon. However, it's not the endgame goal. For GW2, outside of the seasonal stuff, the only thing that really can improve your character at level 20 is literally a legendary.
So for me, it feels as if the entire game just wants you to farm it and that's sort of the motivation to do anything, which isn't enough for me to want to login the game because I'm not really that excited to farm up all of the materials in order to get a weapon skin. WvW's rewards are few and far between, the Mists grant Mists only unlocks that are okay I guess, but is self contained within the Mists, and PvE feels like legendary reagent farming.
I'm not trying to make an argument that legendary weapons are stupid or the mechanic isn't cool (I do think legendary adventures to obtain loot is cool), but that every mechanic sort of spills into legendary farming and that seems like the ultimate goal in the game. Which is fine, but there is so few people that I know that are willing to commit to something that just gives them literally a weapon skin on one of the specific classes they play.
With something like GvG though, the idea would be that everything in the game that exists is there to contribute to your experience in the endgame content. So prestige gear, unlocks, skills, etc. all contribute. With GW2, everything contributes to the prestige gear, which isn't a gamemode, but an item, that once you get you sort of walk around with and go "yeah I have it." You check it off your bucket list then ask yourself if you want to go through the hell again or when is the next update so you can login and do something.
I'm not a big fan of balance, which is another thing that GW2 embraced from GW1. In GW1, the PvE was sort of a joke and it even sort of just made fun of itself as you played. It was there as a form of minor entertainment, like this single player RPG campaign that you could finish in a day or so. It wasn't some long grind, it wasn't even really that complete, and it was great still. In GW2, the PvE got super serious, with actual you know large maps to roam around in. Whenever you put a lot of emphasis on PvE, you need to add in unbalanced and overpowered gear, because it is what lets you have fun. Obtaining and using overpowered gear is sort of the entire point of most MMO PvE.
Applying GW1's loot system / method of balancing to GW2 I think was a poor design decision. Again, GW2 doesn't have GvG. The idea behind the "even loot for everyone" in GW1 was that it was trying to be the Unreal Tournament of MMOs. As such, the idea was that gear didn't play a role, strategy did. When you went into battle, how powerful you were was determined by which skills your guild had and what skills the opposing guild had, and who could use them the best. If someone had a direct counter to your FOTM build, oh well!
I don't think I ever beat too many counters, which is a form of unbalance, so much in the sense that you can risk going up against a team with a build you have no counters to or fighting the FOTM that you have the direct counter to. If it’s the first, your chances of winning are not that great, if it’s the later then you're a superstar. In GW2, builds are limited to a few skills and weapons combinations, which is awesome, but when everyone is a carbon copy of everyone else, it's all perfectly balance.
But the game modes available don't play well for balance. In DAoC, RvR required "gank groups" to come in and break zergs up. Two groups could take out 150 players easily and would break up the zergs into smaller, more manageable groups. Sure, gear and various abilities / unlocks can make people more powerful, but at the same time, it creates an incentive to play and become as powerful as them, which is the carrot on the stick.
I don't think GW2 has a very attractive carrot for a lot of players. It could be fun to chase for awhile, because the game is so good, but fatigue is going to set in when you realize you're walking on a treadmill and there isn't any progression towards some goal being made, which fundamentally we all as gamers want to see something move up money, power, or prestige.
The Zerging Conclusion
In GW2, there isn't a sense of emphasis on what skills you put on your bar. So there isn't really a way to get a "leg up" over someone. Whenever there isn't a way to stand out and be some unique starshine that shines brightly on the field, people get complacent, and complacency breeds zerging, hence the fact that WvW has almost always been zerg fest 2019.
I'm not saying that GW2 isn't fun, it's insanely fun, the combat is fluid and the game mechanics are all genius and it's currently the blueprint that a lot of MMOs are using, if you look really closely, and it's also super successful, but it's also fatigueville and is primarily played as a secondary MMO for the vast majority of players out there. When an update comes or there is an itch, they scratch it, but there aren't a lot of people that I know who are always on the game.
Which is fine, there is no monthly fee and they have no obligation to entertain you monthly, but I just want to point out that while GW2 doesn't NEED GvG and copying it probably is a dumb idea, it does need something to call its own, some grand goal that everyone is working towards, and I don't think legendaries are it. I think it's too late to fundamentally change the game to say now that the Mists is a serious eSport and you'll earn all these prizes for doing it and you need to farm these locations to be an allstar or something silly like that and I'm fine and okay with just playing with new seasonal content comes out to toy around with.
So it's all alright, but I think, it is for sure something interesting to think about. So tell us what you're thinking in the comments below.
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