Like many of you, I’m excited for the launch of Guild Wars 2. After taking part in numerous MMO rises and falls, however, I’ve become more guarded than I like to be. Couple that with a need to consume as much content as possible and you can see how I might spoil any surprises GW2 has in store for me. So, hard as it was, I put myself into media blackout for at least the last six months. I’ve watched the manifesto and read some things — total blackout is nearly impossible — so I know the Arenanet is aiming high; I have a good idea about big concepts like doing away with the holy trinity and getting rid of raid progression.
I ended that blackout this week. I’m consuming all I can because
winter launch is coming. One of the burning questions on my mind, perhaps the most burning question, is — if they’re doing away with endgame progression, what exactly are they planning? With finely honed Google-fu I’ve found some information you probably already know: max level PvP/PvE zone, max level events and dynamic leveling to experience what you might have missed leveling up, organized PvP and world-versus-world. They lack progression, per se, and instead offer cosmetic rewards, skill alterations, and other non-gear based incentives.
I also found two excellent forum posts at MMO Champion (imagine that!) that highlight each school of thought on what ArenaNet are trying to do. They’re so well written, I had to share them.
In Guild Wars 2, new content expands rather than extends the game. Thanks to the side-kicking system, content never becomes obsolete; when you reach the level cap your options are not limited to content specifically made for the endgame, you can still play any of the dynamic events or attempt any of the dungeons you may have initially missed. Furthermore, dynamic events provide constant variation across the entire game world. A zone might be completely different the next time you visit it due to different events being active, events being at different stages, or events having a different number of players participating in them.
Moving onto the dynamic world content, I struggle again to consider this to be worthy endgame content. It is somewhat like returning to Elwynn Forest and completing the quests you missed. Granted the Dynamic Events will mix things up so that it is different and the world feels more alive than a bunch of NPCs standing around telling you to kill ten boars, collect ten boar spleens, but in effect you are revisiting leveling content. I’m sure that people are going to cry ‘But it isn’t leveling content, it’s all endgame content’ or some such, but really it’s going to feel like it did while you were leveling up, because it is what you were doing while leveling up. And, just like SWTORs story leveling experience, the novelty will wear off. There is a limit to how much ArenaNet will have scripted, and sooner or later you’ll see it all.
But what about the rest of the content that’s actually on level? What‘s the actual motivator?
(Quotes parsed for manageability)
(1) Firstly, there are rewards which expand your abilities. These include weapons, traits, and slot skills (including elite skills). All of these things combined provide a significant amount of depth in terms of character builds which is great news for those who enjoy theorycrafting and experimentation.
Secondly, there are rewards which provide ways of customising the appearance of your character. For example, each dungeon has its own unique armour set, and there also exist rare dyes which can be used to change the colour of specific parts of your armour.
Thirdly, there are rewards which provide a sense of achievement through explicitly tracking your progress and recording your character’s history.
As well as the content described above and its rewards, there is also the crafting system, the two-way auction house, and mini-games.
Tarien’s points begin by questioning how long the current set of dungeons will last players at the level cap, hard modes and alternative configurations aside. The following is more of a direct reply.
(2) Without gear upgrades there is very little incentive to keep clearing dungeons, once you’ve seen it, achieved what can be achieved and gotten whatever cosmetic items you need, what is the point? In other MMOs with gear progression your technique changes as you gear up. Initially you use CC, LoS pulls, and so on. Later you brute force it, and later still you chain pull wildly while the DPS try to balance running with AoEing. You won’t get that in a gearless game, you’ll find the optimal method and that’s it.
Great food for thought.
For my part, I enjoy the traditional raid-game but can’t often take part in it, so changing up the dynamic is appealing to me on a personal level. That said, I have serious concerns about the longevity of a non-progression endgame.
Think about it, MMORPGs are ALL progression in some form. Leveling is progression and the basis for what we expect these games to be. Nearly every tangible aspect of these games involves progressing your power. While cosmetic upgrades are neat, they offer nothing as substantial as the increased stats which is the very thing which tells us we are progressing.
Conceptually, I love the idea of players raiding because they enjoy the encounters. In a gaming environment where huge percentages of people never finish the games they start, however, why should the transient masses ever come back the second time? Is a new set of statless pauldrons enough to fill out raid spots? My gut says no. Look at other games that launched without item progression. Fallen Earth was widely criticized for having no endgame at all. GW2, for being different in so many other ways, gets a pass since they say it’s on purpose?
The counter-argument is, of course, that without a subscription fee it’s fine for players to leave when they’re done and come back when new content is added. That isn’t healthy for a game that wants an active playerbase at level cap. It’s true, of course, and F2P means there will be more people at any given time over a sub-game, but eventually claims of “your game is dead” will arise, as is the blame for “not planning for retention.” You might also say that the endgame is about PvP. In that case, should we have ever considered it a competitor to other MMOs where it’s is a feature rather than an alternative?
Where does all this lead; I see a handful of possibilities. Endgame players will leave shortly after they cap out realizing this isn’t the game for them; PvP will become the foremost activity for high-end gameplay; ArenaNet will provide an ability-based or alternative progression scheme to keep raiders satisfied; or raiding will take on a more refined existence, where players actually play for the experience rather than the item. Give me a mix of 2, 3, and 4 and I see a long happy future for GW2. Arrive with “you didn’t want it anyway” and there may be trouble.