Guild Wars 2. Guild Wars 2. GUILD WARS 2!
It’s on everyone’s mouth right now and possibly on most people’s hard disks. The kind of people who love playing MMOs anyways. This game created such a positive buzz in the MMO community since… …well possibly since World of Warcraft. It is refreshing not just because its new but because it does things in a new way. On second thought that is not exactly true. Guild Wars 2 took the aging (and some would say stagnating) MMO genre, broke it apart, and then rebuilt it to craft an experience which feels in equal parts familiar and fresh much like Blizzard did all those years ago. The original Guild Wars also did things in a new way but its biggest feature was by and large the payment method. Most other features were a step back to me. Ideas which felt half finished. Given ArenaNet’s budget at the time I cannot blame them. However Guild Wars 2 is a different kettle of fish.
I am not here to wax lyrical about GW2 (but I probably will). I won’t hide the fact that right now I am loving the game and got my Warrior to a comfortable level 71. Quite possibly this will be the fastest I have ever reached level cap in an MMO. My lack of contributions to the blog are testament to how engrossed I have become with Tyria. ArenaNet did plenty of things extremely well, other things less so. The merits/faults of some decisions need to be scrutinised further and mulled over the long haul for me to judge accurately since they pertain to the fabled ‘end-game’. There are big question marks regarding my interest in the game once I hit 80 although by now I have learnt not to doubt ArenaNet’s ability to deliver (it sometimes pays off to be skeptical mind you). For certain the game has an extremely solid and very promising foundation and it will be interesting to see where ArenaNet decides to take it.
I have decided to focus this post on one (positive) facet of GW2 and the one which I am loving the most: Dynamic Events! Remember this video?
To a cynical (and possibly somewhat jaded at the time) gamer like me this all sounded rather pompous. The first time I saw it I could see the images but all I could hear was ‘bears! bears! bears! bears! bears!’. Re-watching the above video today I can safely say that the developers delivered on everything they promised.
Dynamic Events are nothing new. Warhammer Online introduced them, Rift made them an intrinsic part of the game but Guild Wars 2 just took the idea and weaved it into Tyria in such a way as to make the player regularly nod in approval and say ‘This is how it was meant to be. This is the delivery of that original promise’. So what makes dynamic events in GW2 so special? For starters they are interesting. There is lots of variety to them – escorting a caravan to its destination, defending a village from an assault, rescuing a damsel in distress, helping a kid impress his dad… you’re never really sure what will be asked of you next. Some of them are very simple affairs while others set off a long chain of events which make you feel like you have just finished an epic journey on conclusion. They are rewarding because they give good chunks of XP, karma points and money. Moreover they also tell a good story with all the NPCs being fully voiced and managing to properly convey their characters in the limited time I spent aiding them. Some very talented writers and voice actors were involved in crafting this game. Even the dialogue and mindless banter had me gripped and I often found myself listening in to what the inhabitants of Tyria had to say to each other as I ran along.
However the thing which made me fall in love with GW2’s public quests is something simpler but at the same time immensely more profound: When you save the captured hunter from captivity he doesn’t just wave, run a few metres and dissipate into thin air*. You can follow him back to town and see him reunite with his wife who is patiently awaiting his arrival. He is there in this living breathing world for everyone to see at all times. He inhabits this world. He does not exist for the sake of the player but he exists for the sake of the world. Even if it wasn’t you who saved the hunter you will still witness him rejoin his wife, tell her how he was saved from captivity and then go play with the kids. You can casually experience the success of some party of adventurers somewhere who took the time to rescue this guy in order for him to get back to town safely. And you can fantasize how next time you will be the one to save someone from certain doom.
You may be walking through the village and have a woman call you and tell you how her husband has been hunting but never returned or maybe accidentally stumble on the hunter, in a cage, begging to be let out while casually exploring a cave. The game does not dictate how you are meant to quest. In Guild Wars 2 you may find adventure or adventure may find you. When I first read about Ultima Online and saw those first couple of screenshots in PC Gamer all those years back this is how I imagined it to be. It feels awesome to see that dream finally realized after such a long time. I do believe this is the single facet of dynamic events that will have most lasting repercussions on the industry.
The constant promise of adventure and discovery drives everything I do in GW2 and dynamic events are the fuel that keeps the fire going. There are some caveats however. First of all it would have been nice if there were more of them. Spending a couple of hours in an area will make you familiar with the public quests on rotation and familiarity quickly starts to set in leading to boredom. There are only so many times you can help an NPC traverse through enemy territory before it gets boring and it is a bit of a missed opportunity that these quests do not have a random element to them as far as I could tell. It’s true that the events can unfold differently depending on your success or lack thereof. However going down a certain path always seemed to yield the same results story wise. Also the ‘heart’ quests are poor filler to the otherwise brilliant content. I kind of see the need for them, but I would have loved for them to be replaced with more dynamic events.
It will also be interesting to see how these events pan out once the player population is dispersed across various levels or when the initial rush of the game slows down, reducing the number of players in circulation. Some might argue that the automatic scaling of levels will make sure that the population will remain quite widespread across all zones. I am not sold on that idea since the only thing dictating what area you quest in once reach level cap (if you quest at all) is the raw materials you are seeking to harvest and the game economy is an unpredictable beast right now. Its currently easy to find people to help out. This won’t always be the case and, unless ArenaNet have some clever dynamic system in place which scales not only difficulty but also reward based on the number of people participating, I can see how some events will simply not be worth my while if I have to actively seek a group to complete them.
I will not let these thoughts taint what has, up till now, been a very enjoyable experience. The public quests in GW2 make me extremely excited for the future of MMOs and that is more than I could ask for from a single game feature.
*Feel free to re-read this line until it sinks in.