Part One - Death's Eminent Rebirth
There are a number of gameplay conventions that have been around since the dawn of MMOGs that many gamers have been eager to see vaporized and vanquished in the swirling ether of history rather than perpetuated in each upcoming title that dots the development horizon. Thankfully we've finally come to that crossroads where design paradigms are altogether shifting focus rather than simply adding incremental iterations on perhaps one or two minor aspects of gameplay and calling it a day.
While the original Guild Wars isn't without its flaws, that series has proven to the larger gaming world that developers ArenaNet aren't afraid to shake things up by challenging conventional MMO gameplay philosophies on a much grander scale. To paint the series in broad strokes, one could go so far as to say that the original Prophecies campaign and its successors have each attempted to push the limits of what is possible in online gaming without ever losing sight of the larger goal. In other words, when all is said and done, it's all about creating memorable social entertainment experiences. You know, that nutty thing commonly referred to as “fun” that many bizarrely punishing gameplay mechanics such as death penalties tend to lose sight of.
Given the rich history of the original series and the caliber of the skilled individuals that make up the development team for upcoming Guild Wars 2, it's easy to see how with each new gameplay reveal the hype factor exponentially expands. You see, one reason why so few titles have failed to claim a seat on the World of Warcraft success train over the past five years isn't so much due to lack of effort, but more so vision in that far too many games have been built using the exact same core gameplay philosophies in hopes of garnering the same explosive reaction amongst fans.
However, ArenaNet fully understands that for the genre to ever move forward, that same core needs to be melted down, reforged and hammered out into an immaculate shape unlike anything that's come before it. Sure, Guild Wars 2 will still contain many gameplay elements that have helped weave the industry as we know it today, but the most exciting bits are those that intend to break new ground and ultimately create one of the coolest MMOG tapestries in the great guild hall of online entertainment.
One such aspect of gameplay that’s been put under the microscope is the concept of death in Guild Wars 2, which is one of the major gameplay elements recently revealed on the official Guild Wars 2 site titled A New Way of Looking at Healing and Death. But before we get into the nuts and bolts of how the death mechanic will function in Tyria tomorrow, let’s first take a look at its role in Tyria as we know it today.
Part Two - The Sting of Death in Guild Wars
Death in the original Guild Wars can be a particularly harsh experience. Not so much old school EverQuest harsh where you could lose your current level due to experience loss, rendering those new spells you just scribed useless until you could regain the lost XP. Nor do you have to hope that you can make friends with a necromancer that would be willing to summon your corpse and a cleric that could resurrect you or else face the dreaded naked corpse run which more often than not resulted in creating additional corpses and adding to your total XP loss.
While a defeated team is simply sent back to the nearest shrine in Guild Wars, it will always go hand in hand with the dreaded 15% penalty to health and energy. In some cases a single group wipe isn’t terribly difficult to recover from, though at the same time if you were defeated by a specific enemy at full strength it becomes increasingly more improbable that you’ll ever emerge victorious once the penalty kicks in. Adding insult to injury, the death penalty can reach a full 60% which can really take its toll on your ability to function individually or as part of a group.
To put that into perspective, my Ranger typically has 530 HP and 25 Energy. A full 60% DP cuts those totals down to a scant 242 HP and 13 Energy. In other words, most boss mobs can likely one-shot you without a lot of Monk or Ritualist support via enchantments or a spirit skill like Shelter. Even worse, say your build is centered around a skill such as Broadhead Arrow which costs 15 energy to activate (not counting the reduction from the Expertise attribute), that means you may outright lose the ability to use key skills in your build until you actively work to reduce your overall death penalty.
Yet the interesting thing to me has always been that in certain situations the harshness of the 60% death penalty in Guild Wars makes perfect sense. For example, it can ultimately help turn the tide in PvP battles and can often help prevent matches from being absolute standstills. By weakening the other team little by little, you can eventually emerge victorious as it will become increasingly more challenging for them to deal with incoming damage.
Another place where the harsher death penalty makes sense is in something like Hard Mode or the various Elite mission areas. As parts of the game designed to specifically to challenge players, it only makes sense that death and any resulting penalties should sting a bit. It’s the old tried and true risk vs. reward scenario and works out pretty well in those situations in my opinion.
Over the years, the Guild Wars death penalty has remained somewhat of a constant, but thankfully a player’s ability to recover or prevent it from happening to begin with have been greatly enhanced. Solo players in particular have had it much, much easier since the introduction of Heroes into the mix, since you can always keep a resurrection skill on at least one of their skill bars to help with battle rezzing which can mean the difference between restarting a mission from the beginning due to a full wipe and being able to continue forward with only the resulting 15% death penalty on a few members of your team. You can otherwise customize specific healing and protection monk builds which do a far better job than what most henchmen were originally able to manage.
Now that we've taken a brief look at where death has been in the Tyria of old, let's take a closer look at where ArenaNet intends to take in the future with Guild Wars 2.
Part Three - Death is Not the End
In Guild Wars 2, not only will death be a vastly different experience, but players will have the chance to evade Grenth’s icy grasp entirely. Upon defeat, rather than immediately being taken out of the fight players will be put into what is being called “downed mode”. In this state, you’ll gain access to specific abilities that will help you continue to contribute to the fight, albeit in a limited capacity.
These downed skills are said to be less powerful than your normal profession skills, such as a warrior attempting to daze an enemy by throwing a rock. However, when combined with the “rally” mechanic, the idea of being down but not out means you or your teammates might eventually bring you back into the fight again minus needing to be revived after a short dirt nap.
According to Guild Wars 2 game designer Jon Peters:
While you are downed, if you manage to kill an enemy, you will rally, returning to life to fight again. When you rally, you are thrust right back in the action. This potential to rally from the edge of defeat adds greater drama to combat and gives a player some tactical control while in a state where they normally have none.
One thing to note here is that while in the downed state you can still be attacked. I’m sure that when grouped this will mean that you’ll potentially make it back into the fray before being defeated entirely, though it remains to be seen how this will pan out in solo play. It could be a case where your downed abilities are enough to finish off your target before they do you in, or it could ultimately mean that your defeat becomes a slow, painful process before you’re able to release to an unlocked waypoint on your map.
Still, the combination of the downed state, the ability to rally back into the fight and the fact that all characters will be able to revive one another straight out of the gates at level 1 sounds a lot more appealing than most other MMOG death mechanics. The death penalty itself is also said to be much milder, where a player who has recently been downed several times will simply take longer to revive.
For more info on how death is evolving in Tyria, be sure to check out the full article at the Guild Wars 2 official site!