Updated Thu, Nov 14, 2013 by Sardu
ArenaNet has a long history of crafting compelling live game updates that ultimately serve a dual purpose. On the surface, new content becomes available for players, keeping the game fresh and more engaging over longer periods thanks to an ever-expanding list of options for how to while away your in-game hours. But if you peel back the skin on many of the major content additions that have hit both the original Guild Wars and now Guild Wars 2, you’ll discover an intricately woven web of cleverly crafted tech demos that are later implemented in a much grander fashion.
One of the most obvious and direct examples of this is the Living Story update series in Guild Wars 2. Prior to launch, an evolving storyline was added to Guild Wars that helped lay the foundation for the system, while also neatly providing a story arc that helped establish Divinity’s Reach as the new capital city for humans in Kryta.
On a basic level, all the major elements of the Living Story system were present. You had regular updates that helped drive the storyline forward, and transformed long-forgotten gameplay areas into far something far more vital for long-time players. These updates even came bundled with unique weapon skins that could be earned, and thematic costumes you could purchase for your characters.
If you dig a little deeper, you’ll even find an early version of what eventually became Guild Bounties in GW2 as part of that same update chain. Within GW2 itself, we’ve even seen this type of iteration on pre-existing concepts turn up in new forms. Southsun Survival, for example, is a variant of one of the events that capped the beta weekends prior to launch. While the original utilized the entirety of the Metrica Province map and featured slightly different mechanics, the building blocks for the scaled down activity were all there.
This kind of iterative live implementation is quite common throughout ArenaNet’s history, even accounting for major systems such as Alliance Battles in Guild Wars: Factions which helped pave the way for what ultimately became World vs. World in GW2.
So if you really want to know what the future holds in Guild Wars 2, the answers can often already be found within the live game.
The two most recent Living Story updates in GW2 – Tower of Nightmares and The Nightmares Within – form a one-two punch of both storytelling and gameplay that, when taken to their inevitable conclusion, could set the stage for proper raid content to eventually hit the game. Both updates feature content catered to larger groups of players working together through a series of smaller events, culminating in a major instanced boss fight.
Stepping back from the tower to take a look at the big picture, I see all of the building blocks for what could eventually become a distinctly GW2 version of raiding falling into place. The key areas of note include:
The tower itself forms an ominous, looming presence, and the surrounding corruption and toxic environmental effects help drive players to the usual raid scenario of stamping out the big bad waiting patiently in the final chamber of the tower. In particular, the progressive staging within the tower levels combined with the final boss fight may hold the key for why I think a form of raiding is inevitable in GW2.
First off, the updates have proven that players are more than happy to zerg around an exterior or interior map in large swaths, partially out of necessity for increased chances of survival, and partly out of the realization that you get to the shiny loot faster when a larger number of players all work towards the same goals.
It neatly capitalizes on the exact same base motivator that fuels much of the current WvW landscape. Again, WvW ultimately boils down to larger groups of players rushing from point to point on the map, defeating champions and collecting loot. The ultimate goal may be territory control and victory for your home world, but that’s not always necessarily the same as the moment-to-moment motivators that bring players together.
Walls and gates fall far quicker to larger, coordinated groups, also neatly decreasing the time spent between boss kills and major loot drops. Likewise, an individual’s chances of survival increase exponentially the more players work together towards a common goal, be it offensive or defensive. Also worth noting is how the critical mass of players has also displayed not only a willingness, but a desire to follow Commanders around the map.
So the key building blocks of raiding are already present:
The final boss within the Tower of Nightmares is another key piece of the puzzle. The first time I reached the top of the tower, I had fallen slightly behind the zerg on the third level, so there were no other players around to form a group for the final instance.
A combination of impatience and curiosity drove me into the instance solo, and much to my amazement the Hybrid fight was perfect manageable in story mode on my necro. The fight was certainly intense at a few points, but was a lot of fun and even helped me complete a third key to use on the tri-color chest outside.
For my second run I entered with a full group, and this time the fight was much more challenging, on par with any of the more difficult group-based boss fights in the game. I’m fairly certain that over time the fight would become somewhat trivial for even moderately skilled players, but that’s entirely common once you know the mechanics you’re up against in a given encounter.
Still, it’s this second run that got me thinking. Why couldn’t this boss fight have scaled to account for more than a single group in the instance at once? It certainly could have, as I’ve already seen the difficulty scale upwards from soloable to group content. Likewise, ascending the tower in the first place typically takes more than a single group to manage without some difficulty along the way.
ArenaNet could have easily introduced the entirety of the tower experience as a new group dungeon, but interestingly enough, chose not to. Instead, you have an experience that ultimately helps set the stage for what could become something closer to proper raiding at some point in the future.
Players have proven that they’ll more than happily form larger units to ascend the tower, and even follow Commander tags to reach their ultimate goal. Even if raiding as has been traditionally implemented in other MMOs isn’t exactly what ArenaNet is secretly brewing, I see it as only being a matter of time before we see their take on the concept. For what it’s worth, Nightmare Within already takes us 90% of the way there.
That final 10% is really about leveraging other in-game systems such as giving guilds additional goal sets and purpose beyond PvP, and may even account for how full ascended armor sets are eventually introduced and obtained. It would also add yet another track for the achievement chasers to pursue, but at the end of the day would help inject one of the most critical components of any worthy MMO gaming experience: meaningful social gamplay that accounts for larger groups.
While large-scale gameplay abounds in GW2, rarely does it necessitate more than the most basic communication. We follow unknown WvW leaders into battle, and fell massive dragons without ever uttering a single word to the person standing next to us. We might be out consuming content in a communal manner, but there is nothing driving players to play socially.
So call me crazy if you want, but I see a form of raiding as an inevitability in the bigger picture of Guild Wars 2’s future. Dungeons, Fractals, and World Events have each given ArenaNet plenty of behavioral data to scrutinize and formulate the most sensible raiding system for the game. The building blocks are already in place, so I see it as only being a matter of time at this point.