This blog post ties somewhat to my first post about absence of endgame. And this might also be bit on the long side so stick with me here. Onwards!
Topic of this blog post uses the word revolution. That word was inspiration to this post and I often run into it when people talk about Guild Wars 2, usually arguing this and that. Here is what my brainjellies produced on the topic in textform (and few images aswell!)
So last monday evening I was playing Guild Wars 2 again. I wasn't that excited, after all it was just a short stint and due nature of stress test I'd propably be bound to run into performance problems. So I thought I'd just jump on to my thief for hour or two and fool around in PvE.
Before I go in detail into what I experienced during those few hours, here is a little flashback that will be relevant later in this post.
Back in the good ole' days I used to be real Serious MMO gamer, mostly in WoW and UO. Raids and stuff, organized PVP, you know the drill. Got bored, wasn't my thing anymore, quit. You could say I became casual MMO player; not really wanting to participate in top end guilds and everything related to that, rather looking to have fun in other ways than having to dedicate atleast few hours every day to playing a game.
Casual gaming is usually seen as sort of curse word in MMO's. "Oh you are casual player, you can't join this guild as we only take like, Serious Players here." And that is fine with me. I don't wanna ruin anyone elses fun. But that also means most of the Serious Content is out of my reach and that makes me feel inferior. No one likes that, except the ones feeling superior, The Serious Bunch. This is where the revolution in Guild Wars 2 starts. Lets say the 'Re' part is here.
Fast forward back to last mondays stress test. Here is quick summary of my experience during those 3 or so hours I played.
I logged in to to my level 6 thief in queensdale and was casually pondering where to invest my skill points. Suddenly I noticed that this damn guard tower I was sitting at was under attack! To arms! Bunch of centaurs appeared and started smacking people around! "Silly horsies" I thought and leaped in middle of the action. There were few of us defending the tower and NPC's also valiantly chipped in. It was nothing short of an epic showdown that lasted for around 5 action packed minutes, people went down and got brought up constantly. And in the end we got just steamrolled. Flat. I watched from my corpse camera as centaurs brought down the guard tower and almost cheerfully ran around the battlefield splattered with (mostly) our noble human blood.
My thief, running. Propably towards even more heroic activities!
Beaten, angry, even a little bit sad, I swore revenge and packed my various body parts to nearest waypoint and started wandering aimlessly. I took maybe 50 steps and I ran into a mountainside which had a REALLY fascinating cave kind of thing going on, surely I couldn't resist taking a peek inside? There were few puny wolves guarding the entrance, I promptly dispatched them regardless of my definitive lack of skill with sword/dagger combination. Or lets just say definitive lack of skill alltogether. Inside there was an big-bad wolf with few not-so-big-bad-but-still-pretty-bad wolves guarding... a chest. A chest! Any fantasy RPG players eyes grow to match the size of football (european, not that american pineapple) when they see a chest! And I ain't talking just your ordinary everyday chest where you keep all the stuff you never need, this thing was BIG, atleast the size of the wolf! I don't even care what is inside, I must loot it!
I made a cunning plan which focused on some stabbing, more on looting whatever treasure the chest held inside and engaged the bunch of wolves. I managed to kill two out of three, but biggest and baddest of bunch took few bites too many of my thief. After a short run from respawn point back to the Chest Cave, I made even more cunning plan to take the Big wolf down, this time mano-a-mano and more stabbing included in the plan. What followed was an epic confrontation between two of the greatest forces in MMO gaming: a level 6 thief with less than stellar grasp of playing the game and generic level 7 Big Bad Wolf, that just happened to be in wrong place at the wrong time. No one comes between RPG gamers and their chests! And while the chest technically wasn't MINE, I felt like I had some generic pride of adventurers to uphold, what is a wolf gonna do with an chest anyway?
I guess no one is surprised to hear that I got smacked down again though this time almost taking the Big Wolf down with me. Again, beaten I took my gnawled remains to a respawn point and ran to a nearby town to repair my armor and lick my wounds. Now wait, what is this? Bunch of NPC's have gathered and are heading out to repair that outpost that I heroically allowed centaurs to conquer earlier? And they need protection of Tyrias Noble Heroes?! I'll be sure to call them, but while we are waiting for some real heroes to arrive count me in! Screw the Chest Cave! This is real chance to restore my damaged pride, which the whole chest episode did pummel some more though, but I swore to return for my chest later. Some people might notice a pattern forming here which indeed followed me through pretty much the whole session..
So I tagged in with bunch of other players and with these NPC's we set off to the guard tower that centaurs razed earlier. What followed was.. E-P-I-C.
Absolutely unrelated picture of epic dragon.
Catch my point? This was supposed to be quick summary of 3 hours of play. That was propably the first 15 minutes of the session and it included more excitement from my part than probably necassary, but it was too fun! I felt like a kid in a candy store! And not normal kind of kid, kind of kid that has foam coming from his mouth and sort of crazy look in his eyes. It was also something I haven't experienced in longlong time with any game. Pure fun, presented in so organic manner that you cannot even compare it to most RPG, let alone MMO systems.
Now lets come back to this blog post. We have a revolution going on here and so far it is missing 'volution'-part.
I've pretty much made transition as casual MMO player. Work, relationship, hobbies and other things dictate my life, not my guilds raid schedule. I haven't actually been playing any MMO's since Aion as no MMO can really offer me that experience where I can:
a) Define my own schedules and still enjoy the game to full extent
b) Have meaningfull sense of progression in short play sessions
c) Have fun and be challenged
These are the three things that define casual gaming to me. I don't want an watered down experience that offers me no challenge or sense of progression during my short play session, I want that after that 2 or 3 hour session I can stand up and say "Hey, I accomplished something and had fun doing it!"
When I thought of it, my mondays stress test experience was pretty much like an casual session, the way I'd be playing the game most of the time. All of the three things I listed above were present, and I mean present! Game is challenging even at the lower levels; I died a lot. During those 3 hours I went from level 6 thief that did not know which end of the sword I thould stick monsters with to a level 9 thief that still couldn't figure which end of the sword is the pointy one.
I got my gear, achievements, the usual stuff. And I saw so many different things and little adventures like ones described above. I had meaningfull sense of progression. You can bet I had fun. Whether it is due my (lack of)skill or not, I was challenged. And best of all there is absolutely no feeling of being forced to do anything. I don't need to run this or that dungeon to get good gear, none of that. I can login whenever I want and I am not left behind competetively PvP or PvE wise, because in PvE there really is nothing I can't do with casual effort. Sure, Serious Gamers might know fancy stuff like which end of the sword they should stick things with and so forth, but we are on even playing field looking from purely statistical viewpoint. I am not locked out of any content due my irregular playing times! Hoorray, I am not inferior!
Now finally after all the gibberish here is my actual meat of the post, what makes this all a revolution? It seems to me that lot of people expect Guild Wars 2 to be a revolution, which it is. What some people fail to see however that it is not revolution on mechanical level, it is revolution on fundemental level.
And don't understand me wrong, the mechanical aspects fo Guild Wars 2 are top notch, representation and production values are really high. There are also real original and innovative mechanics there, propably nothing I'd call revolutionary, but innovative atleast. And most of these small mechanical innovations are there to drive the fundemental change of the MMO formula.
Almost all mainstream MMO's that have come out in last decade have followed pretty much the same fundementals that drive the whole genre onwards: progression and endgame, keep subscribers doing stuff. The basic idea is that more time you spend playing, more levels, skills and gear you have giving you access to more content. So what you focus in these games is getting more gear and more levels, progressing.
Guild Wars 2 revolutionizes this concept by killing the whole idea of endgame and making progression a secondary thing. You still advance via levels, skills and gear but they really are not your focus while playing because in the end you will reach that cap and be side by side with everyone. There is no competition between players PvE wise which lots of games mechanics display really well. Also time you take from level 1 to 80 is considerably less than you'd encounter in most other games, even casual player doesn't have to spend a year to reach that final level.
Guild Wars 2 makes the world around you the focus of all actions player takes and leveling just sort of happens as a sidedish. This opens it up for us players to look the game as not progressing from level 4 to 10, but rather travelling between all these well represented small stories that happen dynamically around you all the time. Didn't a slogan somewhere say "This is my story."?
Yes it did.
I never really thought it this way, but that slogan might mean more than your personal story.
While other MMO's have focused on finding that mechanical revolution like Aion ("Look! We put pwetty wings on everyone!"), Age of Conan ("Look! We made combat different!") or Warhammer Online ("Look! We made... a mess?") and failed to reach mainstream popularity, Guild Wars 2 makes it main change a fundemental one. They made people play together and did not make the community progress driven by allowing people with more time spent on the game access exclusive content. They also understand that losing can be fun, you can and must present players with challenges from the moment he logs in.
Guild Wars 2 is revolution for casual play. Mechanics are polished enough for anyone to enjoy. Fundementals of the game support those times when you can squeeze hour there or two here in to the game and you can still enjoy the games content to full extent! You won't feel inferior.
A revolution much needed by many, as MMO audience that started forming a decade ago has matured. And partly due this, ArenaNet employees might be flying around in golden helicopters soon. Just a thought.