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On Improving Aquatic Adventuring

David North Posted:
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The holiday season is finally over, with a new year of adventuring upon us. Guild Wars 2 has had pretty monumental first year, growing at an incredible pace, and with good reason! When ArenaNet started production on the game, they wanted the world of Tyria to host a new type of MMO. To do this it needed to do things differently.  One feature has been seen before, but was never a big deal.  Guild Wars 2 changed that, and I'm talking about adventuring in and under water.

A lot of MMOs feature plenty of land to explore.  A few have even offered some rivers, and a pond or two to swim in as well.  Swimming is rarely used in games though, and it makes the in game worlds feel flat.  Tyria is different, hiding caves, towns, and even cities from the past within its murky depths.  The amount of detail underwater is just as intense as what you would see on land.  By actually adding in whole areas of exploration in an aquatic environment, it fleshes out the world, giving it more depth. 

There are certainly a lot of areas to explore underwater, and several quests require you to do some diving, but it would be nice to see future zones feature more aquatic based environments.  The entire zone doesn’t have to be underwater, but it is fun to swim around to find some more caves, or even more ancient cities.  Maybe aquatic environments could be used in future dungeons. 

What would exploration in an MMO be without combat?  Underwater combat isn't exactly new to MMOs, but it's always been incredibly slow-paced and uninteresting in my book. ArenaNet tried to bring the underwater areas in Tyria to life, not just with detailed environments, but with combat that was unique with an aquatic feel.  The combat for underwater encounters run a lot like those on solid ground. Movement is key, as is evading attacks. Movement works differently though, by offering 360 degrees range of direction to move, just like you would underwater.  This new new freedom in range doesn’t slow things down either. 

Evading attacks is so much fun!

To help take the aquatic feeling even further, enemies that you may find on land would use different abilities while underwater.  It isn’t uncommon to see an enemy cast a net into the water to try and stop you from advancing.  While this is a small change in an enemies’ AI, it’s that little extra bit that helps a player feel like they are in the water. 

Underwater combat certainly does a decent job of feeling different from combat on land.  It actually makes for a pretty good time, once you get the hang of it. So what would keep it from becoming an amazing experience?  There are a few things that would make aquatic combat better all-around.  The skill offerings, and weapons available for underwater combat are very limited, constricting the possible strategies a player can use compared to normal combat.

Currently the game is set up with only three aquatic weapons: the harpoon gun, trident, and spear. Only having three weapons limits variety, which can make the encounters very boring after a while. What restricts things even more is the lack of usable elite skills a player can use in aquatic environments. While the elite skills are already considered to be underwhelming in normal combat, the underwater offerings make elite skills very forgettable.  I’ve never seen a player use one while submerged in the hostile depths. 

The solution should be pretty obvious. New aquatic weapons could be added to the game, bringing in new strategic offerings for each profession. The next would be adding some elite skills that are just for underwater battles. Simply giving players only one choice, typically one that they won't use, causes the battles to become stale, and uninteresting.  Having them specific to underwater use also gives the development team a chance to expand on creating an aquatic feel while fighting. By giving players more options, they may take greater interest in hunting great and powerful underwater beasts.

There are some nasty creatures lurking in the seas of Tyria.

Aquatic combat also greatly suffers from balance issues. Some professions do much more damage than others, while others have a harder time surviving. While the charging style attacks are great for heavy armor professions, a necromancer has limited healing, and probably shouldn't make direct contact with monsters.  Yet these skills are giving to them in the limited selection that they have. You also have engineers using grenades, doing massive amounts of damage to a large area during the entire duration of an encounter. It's rare you see an engineer actually use an aquatic weapon. Adding in some new weapons, and elite skills could help balance things out a bit.

Adding new weapons and skills could certainly be a step in the right direction, but a little bit more would be needed to truly make aquatic combat shine. While movement is very important to speed up the pace, the great underwater dwellers of Tyria are a little slow. It's very strange that some of the shark enemies, creatures that should be very swift underwater, have very few charging attacks which makes them easy to outrun.  Sure some enemies have very unique animations while they perform attacks, which does help with immersion, but it’s very easy to swim away from a fight.  They should have the upper hand being native to the type of environment. 

ArenaNet may not have perfected aquatic exploration, but they have pushed this type of feature further than ever before. Like other features in Guild Wars 2, this will take some more experimenting to get right.  It’s very rare an idea is perfect the first time it's executed.   For now, it helps break up the exploration by expanding the life of Tyria beyond the land and beaches, introducing us to new species such as the Quaggan. And who doesn't love the Quaggan?

David North / David North is a freelance writer for MMORPG.com.  David loves to play and makes games, but now he writes about them!  If you want to creep on him and make fun of his ability to draw, follow him over on twitter @David_the_North.

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