ArenaNet saved the best – or at least the biggest – announcement for last. Megaservers will fundamentally change how Guild Wars 2 operates, altering the dynamics of its social structure and its biggest events. Change of this magnitude is rarely universally accepted, and a quick browse through the forums and social media will tell you that's the same in this case. So what's the good and what's the bad of this new, Tyria-shattering tech?
A more alive world
Playing with more people is good, right? After all, that's what the first M in “MMO” stands for, right?
Yes and no. I believe the main thrust behind the megaservers has less to do with getting specific people, such as guildmates and friends, to play together for specific activities – you already have a way to do that with guesting – and more with making the open world seem more active. It's a problem every MMO faces: low- and mid-level zones depopulate as players move on from them, and content that requires multiple players to complete becomes nigh impossible (talking about your standard group events here, not huge stuff like Claw of Jormag).
Guild Wars 2 was intended to be an active game, with people running around everywhere and helping each other with random tasks throughout the world. That's not always the case; I can sometimes wander for half an hour through a zone and only see one or two other people. I almost always skip group events, and even some larger “solo” events.
If the chart accompanying the article is accurate, I should see 225% more people per zone during random exploration time. That means that, instead of two people trying to take on a group event, there should be six or seven, a more reasonable number that stays fun and fairly small and non-zerg-like.
However, I remember beta and the first few days post-launch, when many events were vastly overpopulated, with 30 or 40 people doing a regular event that could be completed by one-tenth the numbers. These were far less enjoyable. Colin Johanson said in the Friday livestream that “Every single day is that launch experience.” I hope he was exaggerating a bit.
The big stuff: bosses and events
The biggest concern I'm seeing regarding the new megaserver construction is with regards to large dynamic events. They tend toward being massive zergfests and can lag out pretty horribly as it is, so adding more people will make it worse, right? Good thing this system won't actually add more people to these events.
This is where the chart gets a little confusing. It's not that zone capacity is increasing by 225%. If (and I'm making this number up) each zone can support 100 people and, right now in Frostgorge Sound, there are 90 people doing claw of Jormag and 10 other people wandering around the zone, those numbers won't change. There won't suddenly be 325 people in the zone, with around 300 of them doing Jormag. That 225% increase is an average across all zones – it doesn't increase capacity in any one zone. It will just help to make unpopulated zones seem a little more crowded.
What about guild organization? If I want to organize my guild for a big world boss or even a guild mission, how tough will it be to get everyone in the same zone? This is where things are likely to become troublesome. Cross-server guilds (like mine) have already experienced some of these issues, but at least once you guest to another world, you're there for your entire session, no matter how many zones you visit.
The “Join” functionality will remain, so you'll still be able to get to your guild's instance of a zone, even if it takes another step/load screen. But if you're running from one thing to the next? Will I have to do that on every map?
And if you're trying to organize 50+ members of a huge guild, or alliance of guilds, for a specific world boss (like Tequatl) in a specific zone... yeah, not sure how that will work out.
But what if I like the people on my world?
If you're a world or guild that's heavily populated by, say, roleplayers, you'll at least still be generally matched up with people on your world and in your friends list. It's not perfect, but think of it as a way to spread your style of gameplay to other folks who might not have encountered it otherwise!
And if you're one of those, “My world is the best, I don't want to have to mix with those 'other' types” kinds of people? It's got a little bit of credence from the aforementioned guilds who want tightly organized events with a minimum of PUGgers, but really, if you want large events where random people can't just join in as they wish... maybe you shouldn't be playing Guild Wars 2? It's kinda been the focus from the beginning.
With how megaservers work, there's no way to preserve the “scattered” way events currently spawn, so a new system was needed. The regular scheduling of events is probably the cleanest way to accomplish this, but I can't deny that I'm a little sad to see the spontaneity of major events go away. It didn't happen often, but when I ran across a big event going on – one that I wasn't seeking out – it seemed cooler and I felt “lucky” to have found it. Now when I encounter one, I'll look at the clock and go, “Oh yeah, it's 8:45, time for Fire Elemental.”
If your schedule doesn't coincide with the window for one of the big events, you're also out of luck, and this is probably going to be a major concern for a not-insignificant number of players. The current system fits the 24-hour day nicely, but maybe there could be some wiggle room there? Maybe fit events to a 22- or 26-hour schedule, so that the big ones “slide” around a little bit? That would give people the chance to, once or twice a week, do the big events in the middle of the afternoon or early morning hours – and not have only the Fire Elemental to do at 8:45 if that's generally when they can log in – but they'd still “reset” every four days. It would contribute a little to that sense of spontaneity but also allow for some scheduling for the really time-conscious.
As for the rewards – yes, they're going to be lessened, because there will be fewer overall events going on. I'm pretty certain this is a conscious decision by ANet to reduce the most extreme cases of farming, but I worry about the effect it could have on the economy. Ectoplasm and T6 prices, among other things, will probably go up, so could we maybe have a reduction in demand (i.e., crafting requirements) to go with the reduction in supply?
Being able to start huge world bosses at your guild's whim is a nice treat for huge guilds that have enough people to do them alone, but there probably aren't too many of those. At least other people can join in, and I like to think this will lead to alliances and even random map chat inviting others to join in a Tequatl or Karka Queen spawn “at the top of the hour” or somesuch.
And my cross-server guild? It's flipping out over the notion that influence will eventually be merged. It was a bad idea to split it up from the start. Here's hoping it actually gets done this year, as promised. Remember, we were offered the precursor hunt sometime in 2013 (no, I'm still not letting it go!).
Other than my mild reservations above, I'm generally in favor of megaservers. Anything that removes population-splitting “server” architecture from a game is a good thin, in my opinion. It's an old concept that was once necessary but now serves to divide your player base more than anything, which is an especially big problem for an aging game. (Side discussion: Are megaservers just a cleverly concealed “server merge”? Another time, perhaps.) As a game that thrives on open-world exploration and cooperative events, Guild Wars 2 feels this pinch even more than most games, where you almost don't want to see other players because they'll kill some of those 10 rats you need for your quest.
There are plenty of other pros and cons to the new systems, but I've gone on long enough. What's your opinion on the megaserver switch?