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On (or Off with) Their Head(s)

Aside from the things I previewed already, there was another dimension to the Guild Wars 2 beta: the turning of most of the classical MMO arguments on their head. You know the types, the ones that start perennial flame wars on forums? Nearly every single one showed up to the party, and Guild Wars 2 spilled its beer all over them. Stodgy old classics like:

1. Portals ruin exploration and make the world smaller!

Guild Wars 2 features Waypoints which, once discovered, can be instantly teleported to from anywhere in the world for a small fee. Here is a piece of the starting Norn zone:

Flight paths are sooooo 2004.

If portals truly do make the world smaller, you will be looking at Guild War 2’s map from an electron microscope. There were 17 Waypoints in the beginning zone alone; even assuming that number is inflated due to its newbie zone status, the World Completion box indicates there are 477 such Waypoints overall. There were more than a dozen in Divinty’s Reach, the human capital city. And keep in mind that Waypoints make portals feel like a trip to the DMV in a convenience comparison: you actually have to walk up to portals (how quaint), whereas you can teleport to Waypoints from anywhere.

My very first gaming blog post ever (originally posted on Player Vs Auction House) was a guide for people stuck in Dalaran when Blizzard removed the Stormwind/Orgrimmar portals circa beginning of Cataclysm. At the time, I felt like I was pretty clever coming up with a method that got you from point A to point B in seven and a half minutes. And it was clever, when the (solo) alternative could potentially take over ten minutes if you missed the boats. Yes, I’ve heard stories about 30 minute boat rides in older MMOs too.

With the extremely notable exception of WvW, there shouldn’t be an inch of the Guild Wars 2 world that cannot be reached in less than five minutes provided you have been there previously.

I have always argued that you make a world bigger by putting more stuff in it; size should be judged not by distance, but by density. Otherwise we can make a world 5% bigger by having players move 5% slower. Whichever argument reflects the truer nature of things, we will never get a more on-the-nose test case than when Guild Wars 2 launches. We are literally at the bottom of the slippery slope, two steps away from player omnipresence.

2. Points for losing?! Why don’t we just mail them epix?

Log in, press H, collect full suit of (legendary?) PvP gear.

This may not be an entirely fair comparison, as the implicit objection is towards “cheapening” gear progression by making it inevitable. Also, I am assuming that none of us gets uber-gear simply for turning 80 on the PvE side of things. There is something to be said though, about eliminating mechanical rewards (e.g. gear upgrades that increase performance) and focusing almost entirely on cosmetic ones. Will the PvP side of things stay fun enough in the long-run without the “crutch” of progression? Time will tell.

3. Guild leveling was needed to make guilds important again.

You can join multiple guilds simultaneously, no problem. Guild hopping to the max.

4. LFD has destroyed the sense of server community!

Server community? What community?

When Guild Wars 2 launches, you will also have the option to play with your friends on another world with our free ‘guesting’ feature. With guesting, your characters can play on any world where you have friends – with certain restrictions. For instance, you will not be able to participate in WvW while guesting. (source)

I suppose it will come down to how important WvW ends up being to you – I don’t think it’s quite the killer app, as others might – but otherwise there is no other reason for you to “stay” on any particular server. It is not entirely clear if you can “guest” yourself on just any random server, or if you have to be “invited” by friends, or join their party, or whatever. In any event, I would actually suggest this is about as close to “serverless” as a themepark can get.

5. No one talks in LFD, it’s like they’re all mute AI/bots.

Outside of WvW, this was about as chatty as I saw anyone:

Sir Booyah makes a point.

Different servers are different, betas are different than Live, and I don’t even know if that log was from the equivalent of Local Chat or Trade Chat, etc etc etc.

From my experience in the beta however, Milady is correct in being a little apprehensive about the Automatization of the Social. ArenaNet has eliminated kill-stealing and loot-ninjaing, they have incentivized resurrecting one’s fellow players, and they have successfully turned WvW into a Us vs Them affair in hiding the names of opposing players (“Green/Red/Blue Invader” is all you see). Emergent social interactions in Public Questing Dynamic Events have been so streamlined that no dialog is necessary.

And that… is kinda the rub.

I am not a huge fan of the blunt social engineering seen in old-school MMOs – “make friends or never hit level cap,” “play nice or get blacklisted and never run dungeons again” – but I am cognizant of how little purpose chatting in Guild Wars 2 will be, even in the middle of a impromptu 10-person group. Out in the world, it almost felt like I was in an LFD for questing.

In retrospect, perhaps Guild Wars 2 isn’t necessarily turning this argument on its head. What it is demonstrating is that the issue isn’t the random, transient nature of your group in LFD. Rather, it is the lack of necessity to interact that is the cause. Even the most mute LFD group in WoW had to coordinate who was standing in what beam during the 2nd boss fight in Blackrock Caverns, for example. Perhaps high-level dungeons will perform the same role in Guild Wars 2, and perhaps the nature of WvW will lead to the formation of like-minded individuals.

Out in the open world though, other players may as well be bots.

If it was not otherwise clear, I am not implying that Guild Wars 2 necessarily refutes all these classical arguments simply by existing. Rather, it merely appears to openly mock the collective wisdom of forum heroes everywhere. If things turn out well for ArenaNet’s gamble, there will be much soul-searching in the months following release. If not? Well… I’ll think of something.