Dynamic Events: Taking the Monotony out of MMORPGs
Guild Wars 2's much touted feature, dynamic events, is easily the game's most advertised to date. Indeed, it is the most wholly unique of all the hallmarks that ArenaNet has implemented in its latest title and it has also been the subject of much debate as to whether its implementation will take the monotony out of the typical MMORPG. A genre long plagued by the constant grind to reach the end game all the while accompanied by boring fetch and escort quests, the majority of the games industry has turned its back on this particular space. After the tragedy that befell Curt Schilling's own 38 Studios, many investors are asking the question, "Why should I put my money in such an expensive risk?". It's a reasonable fear to be sure, but if there is anybody in this industry that can attest to the money that can be made in MMOs, it's Blizzard. Love it or hate it, World of Warcraft is proof that there is enough money to be had in this genre, even if the well currently seems dried up. It is this author's humble opinion that the proverbial ball is in ArenaNet's court to bring the attention back to a genre whose player base seems to be slowly dwindling. If the number of participants in the recent beta events for Guild Wars 2 are any indication, it shows that there is enough interest in this space that a game with enough fresh ideas and polish could bring MMORPGs out of their current rut. Regardless of whether you are going to play it or not, anybody who loves this style of game should be cheering for Guild Wars 2 to be a success because it stands to be one of the last AAA MMOs should it fall flat.
Before any explanation as to why gamers should support Guild Wars 2 is made, an examination must be made of Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic, the last big budget MMORPG. Typically, this author would rather avoid using previous titles as an example in his work but it seems appropriate as it was in the same position as Guild Wars 2 prior to its launch in December of 2011. A continuation of the critically acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic, SWTOR had everything it needed to be a smashing success: a well known intellectual property, investor interest, and a talented development team. With this criteria, many interested players seemed to overlook that the game simply lacked any semblance of innovation in a space desperate for some new material. Sure, it had Bioware's excellent pedigree of storytelling and voice work, but these moments usually only occurred during moments of limited interaction. The classic formula was still present: go here, kill this, and bring it back. World of Warcraft got away with this scheme in 2004 because nobody had applied a level of polish to these existing ideas before Blizzard came onto the scene. Now, players want to see new styles of gameplay in their favorite online space and Star Wars: The Old Republic didn't deliver in this regard. Determining whether Bioware's first foray into the MMO scene was a failure or not is purely of people's opinions and this discussion is not aimed at changing anyone's perspective on the matter, but considering the amount of money EA poured into the game's development and SWTOR's population at the time of this writing, it is hard to hail the game as any sort of financial success.
Guild Wars 2, on the other hand, is taking great strides in improving upon existing tried-and-true mechanics and implementing genuinely exciting additions to the MMORPG. Dynamic events will be the focus of much of this article as they take the established questing formula expected of this genre and hide the monotony under a layer of polish. Those aforementioned fetch and escort quests mentioned previously are not something unique to just this style of game. During Microsoft's E3 press conference, an extended demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was shown where the player was tasked with escorting the president across a war-torn Los Angeles with sniper and jet sequences peppered throughout. If one were to strip away all of the explosions and frantic gun play, they would find that, at its core, this mission was essentially a traditional escort quest with enough layers on top of it that players would hardly notice. This is what Guild Wars 2 is aiming to do with its dynamic events. Sure, a lot of the time players are given an assortment of standard quests: collect X of this, kill Y of that, or bring Z back to me, but it's how the game attempts to the take attention away from these standard practices that has led many who have participated in the beta weekend events to come away from their experience actually refreshed for a change. One minute, players might be fending off bandits from attacking a local farm and the next, a huge wurm will spring from the ground and begin wreaking havoc on everyone. This added level of tension and a propensity for randomness diverts attention away from the player's current actions and keeps them thoroughly engaged while they participate in these dynamic events.
It is well known that everything worth doing is always more fun with friends and this certainly can be applied to Guild Wars 2's dynamic events. Rather than require that players who want to adventure together form their own group, Guild Wars 2 smartly dodges asking players to segregate or play by themselves with the openness that comes with its dynamic events. Bringing people together through public quests is nothing new to MMORPGs but ArenaNet adds a level of polish, similar to Blizzard, that makes this system much more appealing and certainly more fun to play. Hotspots that players can participate in are clearly marked on every one's map and as more and more people hop into battle, the game will scale the event accordingly to ensure there is always a challenge. This insistence on never playing by yourself is just another example as to how Guild Wars 2 is taking these older gameplay mechanics and layering enough avant-garde ideas on top of them that you would be excused for forgetting that they were even present in the first place.
Guild Wars 2 serves to be one of the last AAA MMORPGs should it ostensibly fail because if these new ideas that ArenaNet is implementing isn't enough to conjure interest in this online space again, it would be hard for those with the means to support development on these games to justify their investment. A lot of players are clamoring for another true sandbox MMORPG, which is certainly a compelling venture, but as it stands right now, the money is in the "theme park" style of MMO because that is where the most money has been made at this point in time. Hopefully, some seasoned developer will come along and kickstart enough interest in games such as EVE Online that we can see more developers tackling that style of game, but as it stands, Guild Wars 2 is the game fans of this genre should be cheering for, whether it is on your wish list or not.