Tyria, come out and plaaaaayay!

So the big talk of the morning is Guild Wars 2, as a press preview weekend ended and reviews have gone up all willy-nilly (cough).  It’s definitely inspiring, but I want to guard my heart so that I don’t completely fall into the deep end of the anticipool and drown before the game comes out.  I think I always have this notion in the back of my mind that GW2 is coming, it’s going to be awesome, and I’m going to enjoy it quite nicely… but I try to keep that back there.   I almost wish that it would launch small and quiet, because this seems like the sort of game that could explode just from word of mouth.

In any case, the articles I’ve read are really glowing and reinforce my feelings on the title.  I’m genuinely glad that ArenaNet is trying to escape MMO tropes and try elegant improvements on gameplay.  Combos, rallying, WvWvW, personal stories, skill bar setups — it’s all coming together to make a product that has a refreshingly new experience rather than just refreshingly polished approach.

What really grabs my beard and stares me in the eye are two separate elements, however.  First of all, I’m just in love with the abandonment of the holy trinity.  Letting everyone play together without fussing about roles so much as what you’re doing and how you’re doing it is an exciting prospect, and from what I’ve seen in these articles, it actually works.  A good team in GW2 isn’t a group of lone rangers trying to out-perform each other, but is an actual team that’s interconnected through skill combos, positioning, and tactics.  This is something I want to examine at length when I finally get into the game, but I’m just glad that I won’t be pigeon-holed into a role or penalized for grouping.  If a game’s going to make me want to group a majority of the time, I hope it’ll be this one.

The other attention-rousing element is how ArenaNet handles character creation.  Way back when, creating a character in an RPG was one of the most enjoyable aspects of it — you’d agonize over every detail, every choice, every mole and dimple.  Then somewhere along the line, devs got it into their heads that the process should be boiled down to pick a race, class, and head.  GW2′s approach, however, is to walk you through the steps of creating both your character and your character’s story, sort of a “choose your own adventure” that promises that affect the quests and events to come.  I saw this back at PAX Prime a while ago and instantly connected with the concept, because by the time I’ve entered the game world I’ve already gotten to know who my character is and what they’re about.

It’s probably not realistic to say that ArenaNet’s in an underdog position — it’s as much of a powerhouse studio with deep publishing pockets as anything else out there — but the approach they’re going with for GW2 feels like a protagonist of a film that’s trying to fight against the status quo and will ultimately end up in a stadium where hundreds of thousands are chanting its name and the music swells and Charr burn the landscape because that’s what Charr do.

Where are the flaws in GW2′s armor?  Maybe it’s too different from the current norm.  Maybe it’s too mired in its own fanbase to appeal to outsiders.  Maybe the dependency on dynamic events will create an uneven playing experience based on who’s around and what’s happening.  I dunno.  I’m not seeing a lot of negatives right now, however, and I am certainly cheering from the stands.

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16 thoughts on “Tyria, come out and plaaaaayay!

  1. Personally, I’m happy to see people move away from the flawed status quo. I was very disappointed to see SWTOR do the exact same as WoW, a game that is almost eight years old. In fact, they did WoW via 2006, missing many of the changes that have happened. I think this was a mistake.

    GW2 and TSW (the Secret World) offer welcome changes to the old design that has been flawed all these years. I don’t think we’ll see this old design in Blizzards next MMO, Titan, and I think SWTOR may of been the last of the old style MMO’s, which may be it’s downfall. It’s going to need an NGE to survive. (That’s a joke, partially)

    I’ve been disappointed by everything in SWTOR except the story, and even that is disappointing at times. I’m looking forward to seeing something that isn’t the same old design we’ve seen before. So I hope games like GW2 and TSW deliver something new and teach MMO designers to actually design and innovate, not just copy.

  2. My main concern with GW2 at this point is that they’ve spent so much time on it and hired a team so large, will they be able to make back the tens of millions sunk into it?

    I think it’s extremely likely to be a sub-based game, or at the least a F2P with heavily monetized systems (pay to unlock bag space, pay to raise money cap, pay to craft faster than a snail’s pace — that sort of thing). I fear those who expect GW1′s free play model are going to be sorely disappointed.

  3. @Stormwaltz: “Will there be a subscription fee for Guild Wars 2?
    Nope. Like the original Guild Wars, there will be no subscription fee for Guild Wars 2. You just buy the game and play it online without paying a monthly fee.”
    From the official FAQ (http://www.guildwars2.com/en/the-game/game-faq/)

    “Will there be micro-transactions or things to buy which don’t come with the box, like character slots?
    Yes, micro-transactions will exist. Be assured goods and items bought for cash in GW2 do not offer any advantage over those available in the game through the investment of time.”
    From the official Wiki (http://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Frequently_Asked_Questions)

    Guild Wars 1 list of cash shop items: http://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/Guild_Wars_In-Game_Store

    Guild Wars 2 will follow the same standards of GW1 as far as the cash shop goes. So you can expect cosmetic changes, some extra slots for characters, mini-pets and so on, but there won’t be purchasable changes to gameplay. So while you’re free to panic and cry wolf if you want, there is no reason whatsoever to do so, if you try informing yourself first.

  4. @Stormwaltz:

    They have stated that they will use essentially the same payment model as Guild Wars – pay for the game once and then play, plus some cash shop items.

    But yes, they will likely need a lot of people to buy the game, just 1-2 million will not cut it. But then, they have sold at least 6-7 million of the old Guild Wars packages in various forms in the Western hemisphere. They would certainly be aiming towards similar numbers that a certain game from Blizzard enjoys.

  5. To be fair, Syp, devs didn’t move to the “pick a race/class/head” option – players did. MMO players were so obsessed over min-maxxing every little detail that there was only one “right” way to build your character, and they’d raise holy hell if you had to reroll after twenty levels because they figured out they’d gimped themselves by having an INT that gave them 0.2% less mana than the other guy. The MMO community (or at least the vocal part of it) is absolutely obsessed with performance, and they’re the ones who removed choice.

    As for GW2 – I think the biggest threat is that very same community. SWTOR did some absolutely fantastic things to the genre, but got roasted for the similarities. GW2 is going to have a lot of those same similarities – for all the love shown dynamic events, having played them at PAX I actually prefer SWTOR’s story wrapper. Once you get inside both, it’s still just kill ten rats to progress. The same people who bashed SWTOR as just-more-of-the-same will have the same view of dynamic events.

    I also think your hopes for classless grouping are highly optimistic. How many times have you seen people asking for tanks for Black Talon runs at level 10, where there is no Trinity? Even if people realize and accept that there isn’t a trinity, there will still be must-have classes. If anything, it has a chance to be even worse – if you need a tank, there are 3 possible classes to provide it. If players decide that you can’t run X content without a Mesmer or a Guardian, it’s going to be problematic. This isn’t really theoretical, either – GW1 doesn’t really have much of a trinity setup, but specific class builds/requirements are still rampant for serious content.

    Stormwaltz raises an interesting point as well. GW2 was announced in 2007, a year before SWTOR, and is launching a year after. Even with a team not as large, you have to wonder what the price tag is. How are they going to make that back just with box sales? It’s going to have to be one seriously aggressive cash shop…

  6. @Sente: “They would certainly be aiming towards similar numbers that a certain game from Blizzard enjoys.”

    This may not work out the way you think.

    Keeping the lights on of an MMO is not a cheap exercise. Lots of maintenance and support goes into it. With a heavily front-loaded income model, the more of those players stick around for longer, the more problematic it is. While GW may have sold 6-7 million boxes, they’ve never actually had anywhere near that in at one point. If they have to start supporting the infrastructure for 7 million players, with no solid, structured income, they’re in trouble.

    Everyone knows what they’ve said they’re going to do. I think a lot of people just aren’t sure how they’re going to make it work.

  7. I’m sure Guild Wars 2 will be a good game, but considering just how hyped up parts of the blogging community are about it, I suspect that many people’s expectations will turn out to be simply impossible to satisfy and there’ll be lots of disappointment upon release.

    Also, I suspect that many of the proposed features which are highly anticipated by MMO pundits won’t actually turn out to have considerably larger mass appeal than what has come before.

  8. To be fair, Syp, devs didn’t move to the “pick a race/class/head” option – players did. MMO players were so obsessed over min-maxxing every little detail that there was only one “right” way to build your character, and they’d raise holy hell if you had to reroll after twenty levels because they figured out they’d gimped themselves by having an INT that gave them 0.2% less mana than the other guy.

    It never makes any sense to blame the players for behavior that designers reward. Remember warlock and shaman stacking in TBC? The designers made that mandatory. It was entirely possible for the designers to make the game easy enough that min-maxing would have been a waste of time, but the WoW team went the other direction and that sort of endgame is where we ended up.

    Don’t blame the player, blame the game.

    As for GW2 and the “killing” of the holy trinity, like many others, I remain skeptical. Can you down the hardest content with a group full of Necros? If you still need class diversity – or specialized roles – it’s trinity in a different set of clothes.

  9. @Buhalin
    So what you’re saying is a personal story that leads you thru the game is what makes SWTOR superior? Have you looked here?
    http://www.guildwars2.com/en/the-game/personal-stories/personal-story-overview/
    And to me the question is and will always be about SWTOR – what happens after the story ends?

    “While GW may have sold 6-7 million boxes, they’ve never actually had anywhere near that in at one point. If they have to start supporting the infrastructure for 7 million players, with no solid, structured income, they’re in trouble”

    GW is a scaled down in every way version of a typical MMO, and they have fully supported themselves off a non-ftp ‘treasure box key selling’ game store. Given their success don’t you think they have calculated what it will take to support millions of players? Seems pretty short-sighted for a company that has already made millions off box sales and millions more in their store for the last 6 years.

  10. Two things. First, to Syp, excellent title.

    Second, to anyone concerned with the potential of success of the financial model of GW2 — if it succeeds, will you then accept what I believe to be true, that games that have subscriptions but still charge for expansions (never mind whether they have cosmetic cash shop items) are milking you dry and laughing at your willingness to part with money for nothing?

  11. Regarding monetization, I believe the elder dragon, Zhaitan is the main antagonist in the release version of GW2. There are other elder dragons that can be used to source DLC. And there are expansion opportunities into Elona and Cantha and maybe as yet unknown parts of the world. (Ice berg cities of the Kodan would be interesting.) I could see them doing smaller bits of DLC for $20 a la the mission pack for GW1.

    They are also very smart to launch with many guild features working. (I STILL cannot sort my guild list correctly in SWTOR!) Fostering strong social bonds in GW2 will help retain players for future DLC/expansions.

    The thing I’m most worried about is game performance. I keep seeing concerns like mine swept aside by fanbois. We have seen plenty of games launch with poor performance issues. I hope GW2 will be the exception. I have way too many people in my old guild playing on antiquated machines, mired in WoW because everything else looks like crap, and they’re too cheap/lazy to upgrade. I hope they optimize (can someone with a technical bent explain to me what that entails, what it really is?) to improve performance before more beta weekends.

  12. Azuriel:

    “As for GW2 and the “killing” of the holy trinity, like many others, I remain skeptical. Can you down the hardest content with a group full of Necros? If you still need class diversity – or specialized roles – it’s trinity in a different set of clothes.”

    I disagree completely. Forcing players to have a healer and a tank vs. forcing players to have a few different classes, period, are not the same.

  13. @Gnome: “So what you’re saying is a personal story that leads you thru the game is what makes SWTOR superior? Have you looked here?”

    No, that’s not what I’m saying, at least not entirely. I’m fully aware of the personal story in GW2, but the story element of SWTOR permeates EVERYTHING. It may not seem like much, but the conversations involved in every little quest put the entire thing in context, and add depth. From the officer who’ll tell you it’s not his job to the stressed-out guy literally having a heart attack as he begs you to help him, it adds a remarkable amount to the game.

    And even then, that’s not my point. I have no problems with what GW2 is trying to do – I’m excited for it. My concern is whether or not it will mean anything to the mass of MMO players. People slam on SWTOR because between cutscenes, it’s still just “Kill 10 rats”. Well, guess what GW2′s dynamic events are? I’ve played them at PAX. Guess what we had to do when the centaurs were attacking the village? Kill X of them. And once we’d done that? Find X villagers, click on them, and then lead them to the inn. And once we’d done that? 10 tougher centaurs attacked the keep, and we had to kill them. And after that? Big boss for us to kill.

    I care about the framework. Many people don’t. Those are the ones I worry about – the same people who don’t care about the story in SWTOR aren’t going to give a damn about the dynamic events. They’ll see it as the same-old-same-old. Maybe the new mechanics will hook them where SWTOR’s recycled ones did not, but I don’t tend to bet on the flexibility of the MMO community.

  14. “It never makes any sense to blame the players for behavior that designers reward. Remember warlock and shaman stacking in TBC? The designers made that mandatory. It was entirely possible for the designers to make the game easy enough that min-maxing would have been a waste of time, but the WoW team went the other direction and that sort of endgame is where we ended up.

    Don’t blame the player, blame the game.”

    Sorry, but no. I can see you thinking this if your MMO experience starts with TBC, but these issues were around long before. There’s a reason you couldn’t pick starting stats in WoW, and it’s name was EverQuest.

    The simple fact is, there will always be SOMETHING that is perceived to be more efficient/effective. If MMO players weren’t so obsessed with performance, the 1.2% drop (or gain) in effectiveness after a class tweak wouldn’t lead to an outcry for respecs. Way back in EQ it was horrific – people considered themselves completely gimped if a stat’s contribution changed, and would face the choice of rerolling a level 50 character (when that actually meant something) or accepting the loss. They weren’t happy with it. Hence the abandonment of anything remotely resembling commitment in an MMO.

    To the extent that the game should be blamed, it’s because the MMO template has largely been driven by uninteresting obsessive-compulsive gameplay that keeps players in by rewarding them with dings rather than a fun game. The devs may not be to blame specifically, but they certainly brought it on themselves.

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