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No Grind? Yes, Please!

Michael Bitton Posted:
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A sort of MMO renaissance appears to be approaching, and at the front of many MMO gamers’ minds are games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Secret World, TERA, and more. However, earlier this year ArenaNet began to unveil details on the successor to their CORPG Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2.

While Guild Wars carries a certain weight as both a critically and financially successful game for ArenaNet and NCsoft, I don’t think anyone could guess how popular it was to become with MMO aficionados all across the spectrum once ArenaNet began to really show their hand.

Guild Wars 2’s sudden surge in popularity is largely due in part to ArenaNet’s candid assessment of the MMO genre and their clearly outlined plans to address issues that have contributed to a sense of MMO stagnation, a serious “been there, done that” feeling amongst gamers. Innovation is always tricky when it comes to this super high-risk genre. Innovating simply to innovate often results in a game that suffers in every other area, or just becomes too confusing. The pace of successful advancement in this genre could definitely be best described as evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Since the release of ArenaNet studio head Mike O’Brien’s design manifesto, the team has targeted specific facets of MMO games and illustrated at length how they plan to change things up, not only for the sake of changing, but as a necessity. The laundry list ranges from everything from storytelling, to combat, exploration, death, and a good deal more. However, what we’ll be talking about this week is progression.

ArenaNet recently revealed details on the game’s experience curve (or lack there-of), as well as plans for item progression. Guild Wars 2 will not feature a grind; instead, the leveling curve plateaus early on, Given the history of the original Guild Wars, it should come as little surprise to people that the game’s successor would not put a huge emphasis on leveling (players could level cap in the original in a matter of days, or even create max level characters for PvP), but ArenaNet revealed that Guild Wars 2 would be a full-fledged MMOG some time ago, unlike its predecessor, and this left the speed of progression a bit of a mystery.

Gamers should also be happy to know that they shouldn't expect a post-level cap bait-and-switch with Guild Wars 2, either. Not only will Guild Wars 2 feature a relatively flat leveling curve, but item progression has also been treated in a similar fashion. A post-level cap dungeon-grind won't be waiting for you to make up for the ease of leveling. If there is a dungeon with an item you want in it, you'll only have to do that dungeon a pre-determined finite amount of times to get what you want out of it. You won't spend three days hitting the level cap and then five years gearing up (figures used for sake of argument). Of course, this all based on what ArenaNet is saying, so whether you believe all this or not entirely rests on how much stock you put in their word.

As ANet’s Isaiah Cartwright pointed out in the blog update, “Anyone can increase the length of an experience bar and call it content”, and that practice is something that’s been a peeve of mine for some time. At the same time, many of us, including myself, understand the necessary evil that is the leveling treadmill; it keeps people playing, but ultimately it’s pretty arbitrary. My biggest peeve has always been the games that force players to tread through a serious amount of levels yet don’t build their content around this fact. Games like Aion, Age of Conan, and I’m sure countless others went into release forcing players to grind after becoming used to a certain rhythm of leveling that consistent content provides players. It’s jarring when you hit a certain level range and suddenly all the quests dry up. If you know your game doesn’t have the content for it, re-evaluate things and adjust the level cap or XP rates accordingly.

So, how does ArenaNet get away with it? The same way they got away with it the first time around! The lack of subscription fees offers the developers the freedom to create a content-driven world and not worry about retention as much (though there is still the mystery on how they plan to fund the continued development of new content for the game, as the scope of Guild Wars 2 is certainly greater than its predecessor).

Mike O’Brien mentioned that they wanted Guild Wars 2 to be fun from “moment to moment” in his original design manifesto, a phrase I’ve personally used when discussing why I don’t like to play certain MMO games with friends, and I was wondering how they were going to accomplish this. The picture has become a lot clearer in the months since that reveal: Visceral combat, many quality of life innovations ranging from the de-emphasizing of traditional class roles, to removing the barrier to entry on grouping (full XP, full loot for all), an interesting take on death as Garrett covered last week, and most of all a lack of focus on “the grind.”

Maybe many of us can still be tricked by this process, but it just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Once you’ve cranked through the first 20 levels or so of a game, you pretty much know how the rest of the leveling experience is going to be, the only difference being that it arbitrarily takes longer per level in order to keep you playing. I’m glad to hear that ArenaNet is focused on making that progression more interesting rather than arbitrarily dragged out.


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB