I’ve been reading other people’s blogs more than writing on my own recently and one of those posts is about GW2′s horizontal progression over at Professor Beej. He makes a good case for providing progressing out vs progressing up and it leads me to wonder if I’m just not the intended demographic for such a game. I own Guild Wars 2 and like it well enough, but I didn’t find it nearly as sticky as other games even in the leveling up process. So when he and other bloggers cite things like,
There is no “endgame” because the endgame is just the game itself.
I am tempted to reword that into
There is no “endgame”
Now, I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Beej here because he is hardly to first to draw attention to this fact. ArenaNet has actually done so on several occasions. Likewise, a lot of players have shared similar sentiments since August. But the thing is, even pre-launch I expressed concerns at how valid this actually is. If your model for keeping players engaged after 80 levels of leveling is “go back and do it again,” your thinking is inherently flawed. WoW has always given extra gold and reputation for completing old quests but the number of players with 100% completion is minimal. I firmly believe that people do not like to re-tread old ground unless they are forced to and why daily quests are a stop gap for slower development cycles.
Guild Wars 2 is a bit different because of the event system and karma currency. Neither of these do much to encourage me to return to old zones if there is something even remotely interesting at my own level. It is an odd psychological trait, I suppose, that I would rather stay in new zones for hours on end rather than return to others that I haven’t seen in a while, but I am hardly alone. There is a sense of having earned that end-level content, a feeling that it should be the best and most rewarding (a conclusion which is supported by the game in a number of ways) because it’s taken so much effort along the way. Step 2 trumps Step 1 and Step 3 trumps them both.
I will return, especially to help friends, and the event system is really a boon. I would, any day, rather return to Queensdale in GW2 than Silverwood in RIFT or the Barrens in WoW. No question about it, Guild Wars 2 holds up better. But going back to a zone whose main purpose was leveling when you’re all leveled up really begs the question of what’s the point.
And don’t say “because it’s fun”. Not only is that a parroting of pre-release hype but also because I don’t much think it holds water in this case. Saying the point of retreading old ground is “because it’s fun” ignores the whole context of this MMORPG. In GW2 combat can be mastered in 1/8th of the leveling process and even the dynamic events boil down to reskins of reskins. “Because it’s fun” may be re-worded as “because the combat is fun” in which case visiting old zones is for the change of scenery. That’s simply not enough to support an endgame.
“The whole game is endgame!” also highlights what I believe is one of the biggest misconceptions there is about Guild Wars 2. The game is incredibly grindy. The is horizontal progression with essentially no point. There is vertical progression with little point and incredible effort. If you want to do something meaningful with your max level character, you had better be prepared for one of the worst grinds in years. High level karma gears costs hours upon hours upon hours of event grinding and an arm and a leg in virtual currency. If you want a legendary weapon, there is no option to acquire it socially. You will do social things along the way, for sure, but what you’re left with is a laundry list a hundred hours long landing squarely on the shoulders of the player. Even getting dungeon sets require dozens of run-throughs before that’s even a possibility.
Guild Wars 2′s gear game is so incredibly grindy it’s nauseating. In a time when there are so many good titles to choose from, MMO or no, why would I ever bother to grind so much for so little? And the fact that no one talks about this is a little troubling. If only LotRO could have gotten the same treatment with its deed grinds.
Critics of this viewpoint are quick to point out that you can easily buy exotics on the auction house. This is true and will allow you to participate in high-level events and dungeons. I would also highlight that you just chopped off the most meaningful progression left for your character. Mini-pets and cosmetics await because map completion, jumping puzzles, and events… well, I’ll put it this way, if you’re still worried about karma gear when the stat boost to your character is so minimal, that item must look really good.
All of this reinforces that ArenaNet really doesn’t expect players to stick around once they’ve hit the level cap and poked a thing or two. Their model is about the ebb and flow, luring players back with holiday events and zone unlocks. For what it’s worth, that’s actually a pretty good model. I enjoy when games update often; it makes me a satisfied customer. As a player, though, it’s a bit disappointing that 2004′s World of Warcraft has proven much more successful at keeping players interested once the leveling is complete.