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Impressions From The Front Line

A blog for the examination of all things MMORPGs

Author: Fajangles

Guild Wars 2's Dynamic Events: Taking the Monotony out of MMORPGs

Posted by Fajangles Tuesday June 12 2012 at 11:57PM
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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.

Guild Wars 2 BWE #2 Impressions

Posted by Fajangles Tuesday June 12 2012 at 2:23AM
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Guild Wars 2 BWE #2 Impressions:

Before I begin, I would like to thank ArenaNet for their continued passion in making great games and their insistence on quality experiences that push the boundaries of expectation, particularly in a genre known to stagnate on tried and true mechanics. As a long time Guild Wars player, I feel very confident that the team in Washington is making the game they want to play, which is very important for a project as large and ambitious as Guild Wars 2. That being said, I felt it appropriate, as a fan of the genre and Tyria alike, to give my impressions of this past weekend’s event so I might have the chance to make a mark on a game that I want to see succeed. Rather than write an essay, I will break my remarks down into very focused paragraphs that deal with specific aspects of gameplay. This way, those who read my post won’t have to do much searching around to find what most interests them

Note: This is a post I made on the Guild Wars 2 beta forums but thought I would repost here just as a way to share my impressions with everyone at mmorpg.com.

Combat: For a game that, on the surface, seems to limit the player’s capabilities in combat, I’ve never quite felt so much flexibility in the traditional hotkey style of gameplay. While you might not have as many buttons to press in the heat of the moment as you would in other MMOs, there is a surprising amount of depth and complexity at your disposal in Guild Wars 2. Because you have much less to work with in battle, it is important to fully comprehend all of the abilities you have active and that you understand their application in certain combat scenarios. In a lot of cases, a misused ability can turn the tide of even the more trivial enemy encounters, so players must carefully consider the implications that come with using each skill.

The dodging mechanic is probably the biggest surprise with regards to how the combat differentiated itself from other games of this particular ilk. I have not played any MMORPGs with this mechanic before and I must say I was skeptical as to how it would work in a world where all of your actions are dependent on the latency between your computer and ArenaNet’s servers. I am not some technical wizard but it seems that the developers have found a way for it to work well enough that I was really unbothered by the act of dodging. That being said, the most competitive gamers will find dodging to be a key skill that will need to be developed as you play. By memorizing your enemy’s visual cues in battle, you can dodge out of some of the more devastating attacks in your opponent’s arsenal just by double tapping in one direction or another. Much like with your abilities, dodging when it is appropriate can be a lifesaver but using it at the wrong time can get you in a real bind later in the fight. There were occasions where my character would dodge when I would stop moving forward and then shortly continue afterward, and this could easily be solved by shortening the half-life that occurs in between pressing the desired key.

Dynamic Events: Guild Wars 2’s most decisive feature is also the one where I find the most faults. Dynamic Events, on paper, are supposed to create this living, breathing world where the player’s actions ripple throughout the game. There were cases where the brilliance of this concept was really evident, especially when I first began playing this weekend. However, as an example, that minotaur stampede in Wayfarer Foothills starts to lose its excitement the second or third time you see it happen as you travel around the zone trying to digest all of the content that the game has to offer. I think the reset timer on these random events needs to be a lot longer so players might not have the opportunity to experience all of the content on their first playthrough. My favorite moments this weekend occurred when I encountered new things to do on my second attempt at a particular zone. This promise of new experiences in these areas that you thought you had already thoroughly explored really incentivizes replaying the earlier content on another character or perhaps traveling back to adventure with a lower level friend. That minotaur stampede that I mentioned earlier could run on a three day timer so players have a much smaller chance of seeing it repeated during their journey through Wayfarer Foothills but they might see something equally as cool while they travel back and forth between the more static hotspots that the game has to offer.

Despite these criticisms, dynamic events do bring players together in a much more unobtrusive way than other games. I’ll be honest; I’m not the most outgoing person in the world so it is very refreshing to not have to worry about going through the process of grouping up with others just to experience most of the content in the game. I never felt tied down to completing content that I didn’t want to or didn’t have time for because other players were dependent on my participation in the event. This drop in, drop out style of gameplay really goes a long way towards making MMORPGs much more accessible for both hardcore and casual gamers alike. And despite the rare occasions where a mass exodus of players would leave my poor Norn warrior to die fighting against a bunch of overly powerful centaurs, the scaling of these dynamic events works well enough that I always felt challenged.

Personal Story: For a game that is all about giving players so many choices of gameplay, the personal story feels rather restrictive. As engaging as some of these quests were, I felt like the character I had crafted in my head during the creation process was being developed in a way that I had not originally intended. My Norn warrior was to be a ferocious drunkard who played by his own rules and solved any disputes with his sword. However, as his personal story progressed, he came across as an honorable do-gooder who would kiss your feet if you asked him nicely. There were moments where I was asked to decide how me and my comrades would tackle a particular problem but the implications of these choices seemed pretty minor. There is nothing wrong with crafting a very singular narrative that serves to move the player forward in the world and make them feel important in a game that requires the participation of thousands of players, but the choices that you make while you are creating your character just seem hollow and let the player down when they realize that, in the end, choosing ferocity as their warrior’s personality didn’t really matter. I guess I shouldn’t be complaining when so few games in this genre offer any sort of overarching narrative at all, but it seemed to be so essential to the overall experience that I felt it necessary to discuss.

PVP: I’m a player that spends the majority of his time in the end game content participating in player versus player. I love the idea of spending much of my character’s younger days trying out different combinations of abilities and experimenting with new tactics so that I’ll be able to dominate my foes once there is no disparity in levels. Guild Wars 2 makes it much easier to jump in and participate in structured PvP and WvWvW, but it makes the thought of queueing up cause me to shiver in my chair. The content that they have in place is really exciting and appropriately chaotic. There is a lot of room for teams to vary up their strategy from fight to fight so that the matches don’t devolve into simple logic questions that consist of “If X is true, I should run over here and do Y” and this will do wonders towards the game’s longevity. It’s the idea of pitting my level 8 warrior against a level 56 mesmer that makes it somewhat uninviting. Sure, the game scales your character up to the maximum level so there is a larger pool of players to match up, but I will never out play someone who has 48 levels of experience over me. That level 56 mesmer has a deeper understanding of how all the skills he has access to work while I’m frantically trying to read the tooltips just so I can learn how much damage all of my abilities do. Players should be broken up by the amount of skills they have unlocked in PvE. Characters with only the five weapon abilities and their unique healing spell should be grouped similarly as well as those with all of their abilities bar their elite skill. They can still scale upward but at least they have the appropriate knowledge of the spells they do have access to to at least stand a chance.

I’ll be honest, I did not indulge in the WvWvW content as much as I would have liked because my computer simply couldn’t handle the mayhem that was ensuing on screen but what I did see seemed a lot more accessible. There’s something that everyone can participate in even if they aren’t appropriately outfitted to tackle the more contested keeps. Hopefully, after a little optimization, I’ll be able to hop in and pour scalding, hot oil on my foes as they try to invade our controlled structures.

Presentation: While the presentation might not be a key selling point that you would put on the back of the box, it is equally as important as it brings all of the complex, underlying systems together in a neat package that provides the player with enough information to enjoy the game without making it seem too daunting. The interface has a nice balance of functionality and style that is pleasing to look at while you spend time in the game. If players are going to spend hundreds of hours in another world, it is nice that the menus and tooltips have a very painterly aesthetic while also providing enough information that I understand what everything does. That said, the tutorials are serviceable enough but they withhold enough information that a new player to a game of this magnitude might not fully understand exactly what is going on. As someone who has played these types of games before, I was a bit lost after the first scout in Wayfarer Foothills circled the key points on my map and then left me to my own devices. I guess I’m not used to having so much flexibility in how I explore the game world but maybe a little more direction initially could make it easier. The opening and dialogue cutscenes are exceptionally well done and most of the accompanying voice work gets the job done. However, a lot of the monster voices, like the jotun, sounded too human for my taste.

Final Thoughts: I could spend a lot longer getting really specific about other aspects of the game that I feel could use slight tweaks but, since this is a beta, I trust many of these minor issues will be corrected before the game launches. Also, keep in mind that I was limited in what I could do throughout the weekend and there simply wasn’t enough time in my schedule to experience everything that the game has to offer. While I did seem critical at times, I just want to articulate how much I enjoyed getting to participate in the testing process of a game that I have been looking forward to for a very long time. I think Guild Wars 2 is making a lot of cool changes to the MMO formula but providing a level of polish to existing ideas that it could change a lot of people’s minds about these types of games. I have the utmost trust in ArenaNet to deliver a truly great experience and I’m glad that I could be a very small part in its development.

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