Thursday, August 11, 2011

A funny thing occurred to me about Guild Wars..

One of the main driving factors behind me deciding to check out Guild Wars a couple of months ago was that I was liking so much of what I was hearing about the upcoming Guild Wars 2, and thus thought it made sense to try the original game.

And, as I said in that previous blog post, I'm enjoying it very much.

But the funny thing is, a couple of the elements I find most interesting in Guild Wars are going away in the sequel. This isn't necessarily a huge problem, since the sequel is also promising some very cool new ideas.

The huge one, obviously, is the departure from the "heroes & henchmen" model. I have played Guild Wars 100% solo, never grouped with another human in the two months I've been playing. I guess I've been treating it like Diablo 2 - a solo game which can be played online to give the opportunity to trade with other people. This is certainly not the only way to play, and the hardest areas of the game were surely not designed to be played this way (although there is an active community dedicated to doing so, as can be seen in guides like Completing the Underworld with Heroes). But it is what made GW different, for me, after so much time spent playing traditional "solo content / group content" games like WoW and LOTRO.

Guild Wars 2 takes a much more traditional approach. You play a character. No henchmen, no heroes, if you don't want to be alone you can either play with other people or play a ranger so you at least have a pet. And there is traditional group content in the form of dungeons: "Unlike most of the rest of Tyria, which can be explored by solo players, dungeons are designed to be played and enjoyed in pre-arranged groups, composed of either your regular guildies or a pick-up team".

Actually, an equally huge change is going from the lobby & instance model of Guild Wars to a true persistent world. But the instancing isn't one of the things I find interesting about GW. Well, it allows some novel ideas, like "vanquishing" (the achievement of killing every single monster in a zone in hardmode), which really couldn't work in a massively multiplayer persistent world, but really, it's hard to argue that this change will lose more than it gains.

I also really like the fact that GW has quite a horizontal character development model. Getting to the maximum level, 20, really doesn't take that long. There's no real gear grind for powerful weapons and armour. Progression from level 20 is mostly about making yourself and your team more and more flexible, collecting more and more skills and getting all the heroes in the game recruited, so you've got more options when it comes to arranging your build.

We don't have full details about how GW2 will work yet, but the level cap is apparently 80, which sounds like a large and imposing number. Apparently the time to level should be quite flat and not exceed 90 minutes, but even so, that could be 100+ hours of play to level cap. I guess that's shorter than some MMOs, but longer than Guild Wars. Will there be gear progression? I've read that "equipment will be a more significant part of PvE and World PvP gameplay" but that doesn't necessarily mean a full WoW-style ilvl progression.

Also, it sounds like skill combinations are going to be a lot more constrained in GW2. My GW necromancer, for instance, could choose one of 35 elite skills, and then seven of well over 100 other skills. Sounds like a lot of combinations? Well, on top of that he can pick one of nine secondary classes, and pull in skills from that class too. Or take up to three PvE-only skills from the dozens available from various factions. The combinations are, effectively, infinite. GW2 apparently condenses your options from an elite and 7 others down to an elite, a heal, and 3 others, with your other skills being determined by your weapon type. And the full skill list will be shorter, although no doubt future expansion will add more, just as each campaign and expansion has added more skills to Guild Wars.

This is probably sensible. I don't think anyone would claim GW necros had 35 useful elite skills, or 100+ useful non-elites. Nor would they say that there weren't genuine balancing nightmares in a game with so many skills. A "quality over quantity" approach is what I'd aim for if I was a developer. But I can't deny that I expect a frisson of disappointment at the shorter list of skills.

I hope this isn't all coming across as too negative about Guild Wars 2. I'm not intending to be - I'm extremely excited about it. Next post I'll write about some of the things that have me salivating with anticipation.

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