Guild Wars 2 Will Save Us All

In Video Games on March 4, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I have a storied relationship with online RPGs, especially where my friends are concerned.  I played Phantasy Star Online on the GameCube with my good buddy Lucas Paynter, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed as it meant interacting with my online friends in a whole new way, in a fun science-fiction setting; Diablo II formed the basis of the burgeoning friendship I formed with Josh in college, which has been maintained to this day (albeit under different auspices).  That game and many others — World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Hellgate: London (I alternate between shivering fits of rage and madness about that pile of shit) and most recently, Rift — I’ve played with my brother (along with Josh and others I’ve met along the way).  And I’ve played Saints Row 2 with Jack in much the same fashion as the rest of these, though that one is obviously not an RPG.

So you could say I’m a fan of the “genre,” that being games that offer a chance at persistent, continual progress that can be shared with friends and other players.  And I’ve found my biggest preference, is that the game doesn’t get in the way of spending time with my friends.  It should be a pastime we share, not something we struggle with together.

Phantasy Star was grind-tastic and had the gall to charge a monthly fee for what was essentially, a bare-bones version of Diablo in a different setting.  Diablo II was less grindy and free to play online, but its stat distribution lent itself to mind games and the lack of an undo or respecialize feature meant that an interesting ability or stat might wreck your character if it didn’t pan out.  And heaven help you if you misclicked.  Hellgate: London had the dubious honor of combining a poor interface, “freemium” features and Diablo‘s stat nonsense with gameplay that somehow managed to reduce slaying demons with magitech boringWarhammer Online stumbled right out of the gates with a number of polish problems and was largely featureless until you climbed to max level, while World of Warcraft is a grand affair with innumerable features that separated me from my friends (travel times, level gap, gear grind, long nights dedicated to ignoring my girlfriend and so on).

This pretty much sums up the gamut of what can go wrong with an online RPG, even if these problems are often seen as features of the genre and assets to players who enjoy a narrow pyramid of potential success.

More to the point, the “genre” as it were, of online RPGs, has coalesced into a landscape with very familiar, consistent forms.  We expect high level caps, grind, and support for playing only with people of your level.  Often, it’s not easy to play with each other, and the soothing balm is, for some reason, that the “real game” begins at max level.  Even then, gear disparity or the sheer amount of time demanded by the game might exclude you from really just sitting down and having fun with friends.  Not the least of everything is the competition for limited loot, xp and gold.

So, many of these games make it difficult or undesirable to simply sit down and play with your friends unless you’re all on the same tract.

Guild Wars has always taken the road less traveled, and it has made all the difference.  Its sequel, proudly emblazoned as Guild Wars2, continues this proud tradition.

Never in this game will you be forced to waste valuable game time traveling; a fast-travel system allows you to instantly get to any outpost you wish, including obviously the one all your friends are at.  Level disparity is a thing of the past, with a level-adjusting “mentor” system that allows your high level friends to clip their wings to play appropriately with you, no matter the level.

So no creating endless alternate characters or worrying about blazing ahead.

Abilities and specializations are easily and freely redistributed in outposts; strategy is held in choosing wisely for the mission ahead.  And rather than dying and being severely penalized, you go “down but not out,” and are granted revival if you contribute to the felling of an opponent.

Rather than using the “holy trinity” of tank-heal-damage, they’ve broken it down to damage (of course), control and support.  What this means is that there’s less focus on a single player taking and receiving all damage and healing, and more enabling your entire group to survive encounters as the enemies’ positions are disrupted, abilities compromised and allies bolstered.

So teamwork has a greater place than simply making sure enough tanks and healers survive the safety dance, and focus is placed on actively supporting your party, rather than just casting a buff, taking the damage or healing in turn.

Guild Wars was well-known for presenting a narrative-driven experience in a landscape where quests were more often excuses for gameplay; the sequel continues that by making it a “personal story” about the hero you create, right down to crafting a biography, and your choices throughout the game affecting your plot.

It also wishes to do away with the more static elements of other MMOs, where you are told of problems and fight stationary enemies; a quest given regarding an attack or invasion is granted to you because centaurs have literally begun to make a push on your allies’ holdings, much like the public quests of Rift or Warhammer, or the invasion backdrop of the late Tabula Rasa.  And you aren’t necessarily forced into acting; let the village burn, and deal with the consequences.

To encourage cooperation between players, group efforts to do things (like felling monsters) rewards each player with the full experience reward and instanced loot just for them, even if you aren’t actually in the formal “group” or party allowed in the game.  Big events will draw players together, and the competition might be to do well, but never to out-loot other players.

Most importantly, Guild Wars2 isn’t an ever-increasing slope, with each level taking more time to conquer than the last; instead, each of the game’s 80 player levels has the exact same requirements, so from one to two takes as much time as seventy-nine to eighty.

It’s a problem I’ve seen many games fall in to, where they are somehow afraid of looking too much at the work of their competition, or of specifically responding against the forms we’re so used to, as though we’re so loyal to these design flaws that we’ll abandon their product.  Guild Wars2 is made by people that love gaming and want to make a game they’ll want to play; they want to see the genre advance so much they broke off from what might have been a very promising career at Blizzard, of all places, to take a chance doing what they’re doing now.

And they’re making a sequel that’s more like the MMO I’d like to play and see.  And hey, it’s still free; makes it kind of an easy choice for a casual MMO, oxymoronic as that is.

  1. I’m sort of curious (and maybe you have the answer) as to how Guild Wars can be free to play, or perhaps more specifically, where the cost goes. Servers and security patches cost some amount of money to update and maintain, and admittedly, I was somewhat accepting of this reality when Sega implemented a fee on PSO of yore, especially since the first version of the game was launched with the expectation that it would only be hot for a couple of months.

    This isn’t to say one entirely got their money’s worth; in fact, I can understand from a standpoint how you feel it was a rip-off even though I was fine with paying for it myself, at least for a while.

    Admittedly, I’m looking forward greatly to PSO2, and with it presently announced only for PC, I’m hoping they’ll have more leeway to provide new content than past versions have. PSU’s Japanese PC servers are already benefiting from the dismissal of the PS2 servers which used to be on the same network- content from the PSP counterpart, particularly the new levels, are already being added for PC players (and presumably 360 players down the line). The old console format, for PSO through PS2 was really something of a millstone hanging from the neck of what the game might have been able to do otherwise.

    I suppose this is my roundabout point of asking what you think is a fair price point for a game like PSO to play online, or any online game in general. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to for the people to maintaining the game to charge something- and maybe Sega charging ten bucks a month or so is a bit much for a game that’s getting nothing but maintenance. Similarly, while a game being free is certainly nice, is it unreasonable to expect it presently, or is it just nice when it happens?

  2. Back in the day, PSO was worth it, being a new and fun experience at the time. However, I think times have changed, and a number of factors have impacted how one should consider subscription fees.

    The simplest breakdown is in how frequently are you repaying the entire cost of the game, versus the content that is made available during that time. In my experience, PSO / PSU (from what you’ve told me), charges ten dollars a month; six months down the line, they’ve maybe unlocked content that shipped on the disc you already purchased.

    Compare this to a juggernaut like World of Warcraft, which is 10-15 dollars a month (depending upon how much you buy at a time), and presents large content patches about every quarter, offering new content for all bands of gameplay (single player questing, small groups and large raids).

    Guild Wars was largely subsidized using a “freemium-lite” model, where you could purchase certain addons to your account in the manner of additional character slots, or to immediately unlock abilities that would otherwise be given through normal gameplay; purely aesthetic costumes and pets also make an appearance.

    When it comes to actually releasing a large swath of new content, Guild Wars released a new, buyable, standalone game / expansion; so you’d buy that for 40-50 bucks once per year, and only if you wanted since you could continue with your original Guild Wars experience regardless of future product acquisition.

    In terms of setup, Guild Wars is very similar to PSU, with towns and outposts being the main massively-multiplayer component, with the world outside being instanced just for you and your group. The sequel is doing away with this in favor of a persistant world where you’ll routinely encounter other players, much like World of Warcraft.

    So that kind of explains where my attitude about price point goes. I’m willing to pay for a large, fully persistant world with all kinds of player interaction; more if there is a promise of frequent content updates. If all it’s offering is the ability to play online, it should be free.

    Yes, servers cost money, but then I already paid for that when I purchased the game in the first place. It’s really, actually, unusual to charge for that experience on the PC.

    Lastly, I am leery of any online game / MMO of asian origin; you yourself noted that the US servers lagged behind considerably for patches, content and attention. WoW largely manages to have simultaneous releases for any content update for its global playerbase. It’s a difference in attitude I find sadly prevalent in eastern MMO developers.

  3. Considering my opinion of MMO communities, a Saints Row MMO would be the first MMO where the players might actually be in character…

    This also brings up a point I have been mulling over: I think I dislike the very notion of MMOs.
    It’s nice to have a vast community of people I can interact with but I’m kind of playing a game here so talking to strangers doesn’t really appeal to me. I do that in the real world, where I can communicate better without being hampered by technology. What I’m saying is that I dislike having to focus on a game while trying to have an conversation.

    I like Saints Row because it’s a nice big sandbox and I can party up with my friends and go do stuff. While I’m doing this stuff there are no jerks to piss me off, or lame people to kill the mood, or jackholes camping on quests.
    This brings me to “Champions Online” and how I grew angry at it. I made a nice character and went out to save the world, and it was a pretty detailed world. But as I explored a ghost town trying to stop the five evil…uh…ghosts I had to act quickly because ten other superheroes were wondering about doing the same thing.
    I began to think that the game would have been cool if they dropped all the MMO bull and just made a big world for me to play in, one with drop in/drop out co-op so if I wanted superhero pals I could.

    Now they have DC Universe and it vexes me. I’d like to try it but to do so I have to buy the game, then register, and if I don’t like it I’m stuck with a useless disk that i can’t even pop in and play randomly on depressing nights because it’s pay to play.
    I would much rather them have made a nice DC game with a branching storyline that accommodates good storytelling. Give me a hero creator and let me be The Dark Conspiritortm, but set the game up so I’m part of a group and then let me have co-op partners so that storylines can twist themselves around that concept(saints row 2’s one failing is that even in co-op it’s still one man’s story).

    Sorry, it’s late and I’m rambling. I think what I’m trying to say is that with the way matchmaking systems work there is no need for some sort of progressive massively multiplayer universe. Trying to do so just bogs a game down. Just let me play the game myself, and if I want a party I’ll fly an invite asking for likeminded players.

    I mean, nearly all of Marvels heroes live in New York, but every issue of spiderman doesn’t involve him having to walk past the x-men and getting invites from the punisher, buying stuff from Doctor Strange, etc…

  4. I agree that the assumption that you are unique and the gravity of your quests takes a beating when you have to wait in line to kill x number of fire squirrels or what have you.

    It’s also sad that games with the features we’d like to see — fully realized open worlds, deep character customization and fully-supported multiplayer if you so choose — are also hardened MMOs that aren’t designed to deliver an immersive experience.

    That said, Guild Wars 2 does seem to be making a definitive stab at being more focused on your character and their “personal story,” as the dev team keeps on putting it. These videos, especially the top one show a character creation process that is deeper than most single-player RPGs, except instead of customizing your class or appearance, you’re dictating your personality, history, attitude, motivation and beliefs. Things that are expressly stated as not being “locked” at character creation too, as your choices — there are choices — throughout the game will impact your character’s growth.

    It’s really, really amazing stuff, and their dev blogs and website are actually kind of a thrill to read through.

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