When I said last time that ArenaNet should consider altering their plans for content, that struck a few people as saying I wanted raids. Or gear grind. Or whatever else World of Warcraft does, because I'm an uber-elite gamer who likes to teabag noobs and doesn't want the filthy casuals even scooping up the poo from my flaming cash-shop mount.
Yeah, not so much. Without delving too much into my gaming lifestyle, I'd say I'm somewhere between “casual” and “hardcore” – good enough (in my mind) to consider myself skilled but not the six-hour-raid, twice-a-week, grind-out-dailies-to-get-that-extra-0.01%-DPS type. I like playing, sometimes a lot, but I don't consider myself elite or look down on other players for not being as awesome as I am.
But raids are a thing in most MMOs for a reason. And I think some “raid-flavored content,” done up Guild Wars 2 style, could be successful. So what would that entail?
(Note: Normally, I try not to play “fantasy developer” because I think it's like telling someone about your character or – this time of year especially – your kick-ass fantasy football team. Nobody wants to hear your glorious ideas that will make everything better. So don't think of this as the Perfect Solution To Everything, just as a hopefully-not-too-lame idea that one person has as to how Guild Wars 2 could introduce a new kind of group content.)
The battle for something something
Our starting point is the Escape from Lion's Arch. As you'll recall, Lion's Arch was transformed into a hostile area, with events, boss spawns, and refugees who needed saving. Every hour, the zone would be opened and players would have about 50 minutes to tear through the city and accomplish as much as they could. Rewards were unlocked every time a certain number of refugees were saved, with the whole zone needing to band together to guarantee maximum rewards for everyone.
It was probably my favorite content event of all of season one of the Living Story. It rewarded solo play – it only took one person to save a refugee – but the group events let you work together directly and the overall goal required a concerted effort from everyone in the zone. It was also non-linear, and despite the community eventually learning exactly when and where certain events spawned, you could wander around the zone doing helpful things in whatever order you wished.
I don't know exactly what the map capacity for that content was, but I figure it was in the range of 100 or so. With a little downscaling, though, why wouldn't something like it work for a smaller number?
I'll use Escape from Lion's Arch as my template, though this content could just as easily be adapted to any kind of conflict in a closed space. A vine-choked grove in the Maguuma Jungle might suit the current storyline. I'd conceive of it as a new type of Guild Mission, something unlockable like all the others and kicked off by a guild at the time of its choosing.
Unlike other Guild Missions, though, it would be in an instanced space and not open-world. I'm not sure exactly how to handle this in terms of who to let in. There needs be a limit, but smaller guilds should be able to recruit other guilds, or even random wanderers, if they want to boost their numbers. One possibility might to be that, for the first minute the area is accessible, only repping guild members can get in; after that, anyone who goes to the entry point can get in. That way, a guild could kick it off when everyone's gathered and be assured that all of “their” people get in. And there could maybe be a “guild only” option if a guild really doesn't want to share or knows it'll have enough (or nearly so) to fill it.
The upper limit would probably be somewhere between 30 and 50. The reason I'd want an upper limit is because the challenge might become too trivial with unlimited players. Yes, that means that super-huge guilds might need to split up and run it multiple times, but I think that's the best solution. They're used to doing that for raid groups in other games, so at least it'll be familiar.
Once inside, players would be given the same direction – or lack thereof – that Escape from Lion's Arch had: Basically, go where you want and do what you want. This is the key that separates it from traditional dungeons and raids, which are usually trash, trash, trash, boss, trash, trash, trash, boss, ad infinitum. Events will pop up from time to time, ideally a little more random than they were in EfLA, but they probably should be within a somewhat predictable time window, like at the 25-to-35-minute mark. That way, you don't suddenly have five events popping up at once, spreading everyone too thin, and then nothing happens for several minutes. And just like with the rescuing of refugees, there should be things people can do in groups of one or two, in addition to group challenges.
Imagine something like this going on in your guild's voice chat. You'd have leaders directing players to different parts of the zone to tackle big challenges, designated “roaming” groups handling the smaller stuff, and a concerted effort from all players to help their group achieve the highest score.
The loot's the thing
Oh yeah, scoring! Unlike BfLA, which only had one means of scoring – rescuing refugees – every task completed in this mission would contribute to the instance's overall score. Think of if BfLA gave one point for each refugee (as it did), 25 points for an event, 100 points for a champion kill, and so on. Perhaps different events or different bosses could even be worth different points, depending on their difficulty.
At the end of the instance, which would probably take around an hour (my major gripe with Guild Missions is how short they are), the points are added up and, just like in BfLA, every participating player gets a reward based on the total points accumulated. Larger guilds that can “max out” the zone will obviously have an advantage here, but as long as most of the content, except for maybe one huge, legendary-sized boss, is doable by five to 10 people, even a small guild could experience this content and get something from it.
The point is that the content could be experienced by a group of nearly any size (up to the max), but to be mastered, you'll need a large and/or skilled group. Imagine taking 20 people into a 40-man raid in another MMO. You probably wouldn't survive the first trash pull. But even if the max of this content is set to 40, you could still accomplish quite a bit and have fun with half as many. There's an incentive to have more people and get better, but the content isn't closed off to you simply because you don't have as many people in your guild or circle of friends. (Note that I'm suggesting the content be of fixed difficulty, not scaled.)
Obviously, strategies would form over time, as guilds figured out the most effective way to distribute their resources (i.e., players) to achieve the highest possible score. With enough different paths in the zone and some randomness in the encounters/events, it would hopefully keep players guessing for a long while and ensure that even the best-prepared group might occasionally have to adjust on the fly.
So that's the basic outline of my... I don't know, Guild Trial? Guild Assault? It's not a raid, because, in my mind, that means: 1) requiring to a set group, whether in terms of numbers (10-man, 25-man, 40-man) or group makeup (tank, healer, DPS, etc.); 2) requires specific, nearly top-tier gear and precise strategy to achieve any measure of success; and 3) is almost totally linear – all of which go against the core Guild Wars 2 philosophy. But what it does do is offer a repeatable, longer-than-usual challenge for a larger group of players at max level, which I think is something Guild Wars 2 lacks.
Whatever it is, what do you think? I'll be eagerly awaiting your feedback on my totally perfect and not at all flawed idea! /sarcasm