Sunday, May 12, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - Choose your Experience

This morning I was watching the PGA Championship while exploring Snowden Drifts in Guild Wars 2.  And it occurred to me one of the things I really enjoy about this game is what a good job they do of providing not just a variety of experiences, but experiences that require different levels of intensity.  And it is that variety that is part of the game's appeal.

A bit heavier level of intensity in a dungeon
The Quad Core
If you look at the game as a whole, there are primarily four styles of activities that you can participate in.  They are General PvE, Structured PvP, WvW, and Dungeons.  Of these activities, only the Dungeons are level gated - everything else can be participated in - in a meaningful fashion - from the moment you create your character.  For me at least, each of these activities requires a different level of interaction and intensity.

Structured PvP, for instance, is for when you are hell bent for leather into the game.  No looking away, no interruption, non-stop action from the moment you press Play Now until the end-of-match scoreboard comes up.

Dungeons are a similar level of intensity, though a bit more broken up.  You have mid-level intensity during the trash fights, high levels of concentration and situational awareness required during the boss fights, punctuated by a bit of rest and regrouping after boss fights as you loot the chests.  Of course, this experience will vary greatly based on your group.  PUGs tend to be a bit more frenetic as they're often adopting a Go Go Go speed-run approach.

I just kill what they tell me to kill in WvW
The WvW experience can also vary greatly, depending on your level of involvement in the campaign - though similar to playing on a PvP server in a general PvE environment, you can never truly relax while playing WvW.  If you're leading the campaign, or playing key roles (building the trebs, manning them, organizing counter-attacks, etc), then your involvement is quite intensive.  But for many of us, we can simply be one of the people following the zerg around, attacking whatever we're attacking, or defending the thing we're defending.  And in that sense, it can actually be a quite low intensity, follow the leader and kill all the things kind of activity.

General PvE
And then there's the rest of the game, just leveling your character as you explore the lands of Tyria.  And for the most part, this can be completed in a completely leisurely, take-at-your-own time pace.  And the game needs this.  It needs to have a part of the game where you can, actually eat a sandwich and converse with your spouse while playing, or stop whenever you want and then pick back up when you can.

Experience A La Carte
But doesn't every MMO provide this sort of choice?  Guild Wars 2 is not so different than other games of this genre.  Well yes and no.  I do certainly believe that the successful MMO's do.  WoW provided a great variety of experiences of varying intensity, as has LOTRO, SWTOR, and Everquest II.  I think however, more niche MMO's might struggle with this.  In games like Defiance, for instance, there is no point at which you're not running and gunning or driving and then running and gunning.  There is no leisure time activity in Defiance.  The other aspect to this game experience a la carte is how compelling are the various activities? It doesn't matter if you provide a variety of things for people to do if ninety percent of your player base isn't interested in doing two of them.  Wow struggled with this as the game matured, and more and more people had multiple max level characters, and fewer and fewer of their populace was interested in participating in the leveling portion of their game.  A huge part of the incentive for the cataclysm was to get people back out into the world, and out of the instance-lobby central cities, by revamping those zones and freshening up the content.

Re-tooling the rewards and adding new events
got people back into Wayfarer Foothills
Guild Wars 2, as young of a game as it is, was already struggling with much the same, as people reached max level very quickly, and most of the early and mid-tier PvE zones started emptying of people.  There's a reason that most of the Living Story content took place in two of the least-used starter zones in the game - to get people back into those zones, playing.  And it's worked!  These days Diessa Plateau and Wayfarer Foothills are crawling with people on a continual basis.  Now I have no doubt that as the Living Story wraps up and moves on, those zones will certainly revert somewhat back to their low visitation status, but you can see that as the story moves into Southsun Cove, ANet is clearly eyeing another low-pop zone with the intent of revitalizing it.

But There's No End Game! 
You certainly hear that all the time with respect to Guild War's experiences.  Traditional MMO's have taught us to expect one experience as we level our characters, and then to switch to a different kind of experience after we reach the max level.  As a result, a huge part of the population not only expects, but looks foward to this sort of shift of the experience, as a reward for reaching the max level.  In fact, a huge part of the player population in WoW regards the leveling part of the game as punishment, something you have to endure before you can get to the good part of the game at max level.  This was why heirloom items and friend-exp boosts were created - to allow people to get through this content as quickly as they could if they aleady had a max level character.

Guild Wars 2 has always  taken a different tact. It essentially gives you all of the experiences pretty much straight up, at the front.  So you can participate in their alternate activities - the WvW, the sPvP, and the dungeons, as you participate in the original, primary experience, of leveling your character.  There is no "Wait  Until you get to the end of the game to experience the rest of the game".  There are of course up sides and down sides to this tact.  On the up side, you really don't have to wait until you get to max level to find out if you enjoy what Guild Wars 2 has to offer.  There is no getting to "end game" and going.. but I don't like raiding.. so now what!  On the downside, if you're a progression oriented, gear-leveling kind of person, that likes to see a continual and non-stop progression of your character, even after you reach the max level, Guild Wars 2 doesn't provide a lot of satisfaction in that regard.   And so for a lot of people, who  do crave that experience, they get to max level and go "This is it?"

There is no easy solution to the dilemma, and though Guild Wars 2's answer is certainly one solution, it's by no means the only one.  It certainly appears though that ANet is cognizent of the fact that people, while still enjoying their experience, also want to have some bit of progression, and so you're seeing things like WvW ranks being introduced, and perks for those ranks, and of course the ascendancy gear, which produced such polarizing responses in the community when it was introduced.

Freedom of Choice
For me, I really enjoy the choice of intensity levels that Guild Wars 2 provides, and I'm getting better at actually choosing and playing all of them.  I've played more WvW and sPvP in the past few weeks than I have since the game launched.  It did require me to leave my comfort zone a bit, but in the end, I've found I really do enjoy these experiences immensely - as long as I realize the varying levels of interaction involved, and so plan accordingly.

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