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ArenaNet Blog Kicks Off with MMO Design Manifesto

Michael Bitton Posted:
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The official ArenaNet blog kicked off today with a post by ArenaNet studio head Mike O'Brien outlining the development team's design manifesto for Guild Wars 2, as well as discussing how it relates to the larger issue of MMO game design.

Mike starts out by giving us a bit of background on the company's history, stating that while they are happily celebrating the five year anniversary of Guild Wars this week, that this week also marks the 10 year anniversary for the studio itself. Mike also explains that Guild Wars was all about doing things differently, and this extended to the game's basic design concepts. Guild Wars didn't really take inspiration from D&D fantasy as most MMOs of the time did, instead, the game's roots were shared more with Magic: the Gathering.

Guild Wars was also nothing if not a bit controversial, as many gamers felt that it wasn't a true MMORPG. However, Mike O'Brien reassures us that this time Guild Wars 2 will definitely be a full fledged MMORPG:

The first thing you should know about Guild Wars 2 is that, this time around, there’s no question that it’s an MMORPG. It’s an enormous, persistent, living, social world, filled with a wide variety of combat and non-combat activities. There’s so much depth here that you’re never going to run out of new things to discover.

So if you love MMORPGs, you should check out Guild Wars 2. But if you hate traditional MMORPGs, then you should really check out Guild Wars 2. Because, like Guild Wars before it, GW2 doesn’t fall into the traps of traditional MMORPGs. It doesn’t suck your life away and force you onto a grinding treadmill; it doesn’t make you spend hours preparing to have fun rather than just having fun; and of course, it doesn’t have a monthly fee.

Mike then goes on to detail three of the main issues with MMO game design and just what ArenaNet is doing with Guild Wars 2 to address them.

The first issue is the fact that most MMORPGs don't quite embody that whole "RPG" bit too well. Like Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic, ArenaNet is putting an emphasis on story in Guild Wars 2. Players will begin their journey by filling out a biography with details that set you on your path in the game's storyline, and these choices will play heavily into taking the storyline in different directions, offering players a new experience each time they go through the game's storyline content.

That storyline content will play out differently as well. Everyone is familiar with the "?" or "!" symbols denoting a quest giver by now, and as Mike explains, it's pretty hard to get into the storyline when a village is being attacked by bandits and the villager asking for your help is simply standing there motionless waiting for you to click on him and accept the quest to defeat the bandits. Guild Wars 2 does away with that. You can stand by and watch the village  burn as the bandits chase down and murder the villagers and set their homes ablaze, or you can take a stand and help them in their time of need. Whatever your choice, ArenaNet promises there will be consequences to your actions that will impact the game world in a dynamic way.

The second key component of Guild Wars 2 is enhancing the social experience, something the developers at ArenaNet feel is sorely lacking in many MMO games, as we are often punished for participating in social activities. From the sounds of it, Guild Wars 2 will capitalize on the precedent set by Warhammer Online's public quests system through the use of "world objectives" which allow players to just naturally play with each other to defeat a common foe or accomplish a common task.  Players participating in world content, such as rescuing a village from bandits will all be rewarded as well, and this is regardless of whether or not you are partied up. In fact, players who are "seriously involved" in any given monster kill will receive 100% of the XP and loot. 

Rounding things out, the third and final item mentioned in Mike's post is something everyone is surely curious about: combat. On a basic level, Guild Wars 2 will feature the flexible CCG-like combat system that the original Guild Wars made use of, with some key differences being that the developers are focusing on making combinations of abilities much easier to identify visually:

The big difference is that now skills are much more visual in explaining what they do. The process of actually discovering combos, or understanding them when they’re used against you, is a lot more clear, because you can visually see how skills combo with each other. An Elementalist can cast Fire Wall next to an opponent, and then switch to Water attunement, which freezes all enemies around him. Using the concussive force of Water Trident, he can slam his frozen enemy into the Fire Wall, leaving him to roast in the flames.

Your choice of race will greatly impact your combat options as well, such as the fact that the Norn have the ability to transform into a bear. Players will also be able to select and develop traits for their characters that offer even more customization than ever before. Traits such as Stone Boots for the Elementalist allow you to resist knockbacks for example.

What really stands out, however, is the way the aforementioned combos play out in groups:

And like the original GW, in GW2 the creativity doesn’t end with your own character. When you play with others, you’ll find that your abilities can complement theirs, and that you can discover new skill combos and strategies between professions. So if you’re playing an Elementalist, try casting a fire wall, and then see what happens when your friends shoot projectiles through it

Toasty! Instant fire arrows anyone?

ArenaNet didn't stop there either, Guild Wars 2 will also feature a ton of environmental weapons. This includes anything from purchasing a jar of bees from a beekeper to use in combat, to using a boulder a Stone Elemental throws at you to create a meteor storm as an Elementalist.

In the end, Guild Wars 2's combat will be about having fun from moment to moment, and not preparing to have fun, something this writer has been personally kvetching about for years.

Read the full post here for additional details.

What do you think of the direction ArenaNet is taking Guild Wars 2? Let us know in the comments below!


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