It’s possible that I am a little prone to hyperbole when it comes to Guild Wars 2. I might have a tendency to insist that it will answer the demands and desires of everyone – PvPer, PvEers, hardcores and casuals, even the people who don’t play MMOGs at all because of the frustrating player communities or the repetitive and boring gameplay. You could say I’m an blindly obsessed fangirl, and you could go on to say that GW2 has enough of those already. I wouldn’t blame you for saying any of those things, but trust me when I say that on this occasion, I have a reason for claiming the title of this post.
In the course of reading about MMORPGs in general, I came across an article entitled ‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games: The Past Present and Future.’ It was published in 2008, after giving an overview of the history of the genre and some stand-out examples in its development, the authors discuss the results of a survey in which they asked MMORPG players (and those who had experience with such games but weren’t playing currently) what game features they liked the most, what the biggest problems were, and what they’d like to see in future MMORPGs.
Well, four years later online games are finally stepping out an innovating a little bit more, and it looks like we might be getting out ‘third generation’ MMORPGs. What made me happy, though, was how many of the survey respondents’ concerns are also the concerns of ArenaNet in making Guild Wars 2 the game that players always wanted.
When asked about future MMORPGs, respondents were first asked about what existing features of games they would like to see improved upon. I’m going to briefly outline the main concerns, then suggest in blue how GW2 will answer them:
- PvP – more balance was required for classes in PvP, with less of a ‘rock, paper, scissors’ approach to stretegy. Additionall, players wanted some motivation for large-scale (e.g. factional) PvP conflicts – an incentive to fight, such as territory or a castle.
After the success of PvP in the original Guild Wars, GW2 classes are definitely being designed with this in mind. The flexibility of the professions – and the way conditions and boons are comparable across the game – should make them pretty balanced and less situational. And large-scale factional PvP with objectives? You can spend your whole game in World vs. World if you want to!
- Level Grind – unsurprisingly, players were sick of this. They didn’t like doing the same thing over and over just to get experience points, and they didn’t like applying the same stretegy to everything.
Over and over, I hear beta players say they barely notice their level in GW2. You can play any content any time anyway, and continuing with a fun group of people or an intense event chain is more interesting than collecting your level-up rewards.
- Story and Immersion – players wanted better story at the quest level – quests should be an immersive break from grind, not just a reason for more grind. It was suggested that ‘jobs’ (simple tasks for currency) could be distingished from ‘quests’ (story-driven heroic tasks).
I can’t speak for the story overall (I haven’t played it), but GW2 has background lore to satisfy anyone who wants it. As well as the personal story (with its individualised choices and instances), dynamic events are your ‘quests’ in this sense; tasks that fill renown hearts and earn karma are your more practical ‘jobs’.
- Graphics – players wanted graphics more on par with single player RPGs, which is fair enough but difficult to achieve. However, they also wanted an art style more on par with these, and really wanted more character customisation for themselves.
Guild Wars 2 is already famous for its art. Style is a matter of personal preference, of course, but few would disagree that the environment designs are beautiful. Although it’s not the only game making improvements on character customisation, the GW2 character creation looks very detailed and the dye system allows lots of variation.
- Content and Updates – since they were paying subscription fees, people wanted a faster response time in fixing bugs and more content produced more quickly. What’s the fee for if not maintenance of the game, right?
I can’t comment on this – maintenance is something we won’t know about until some time after release. On the bright side though, you’re not paying subscription fees, so you won’t have to feel like your money’s being wasted there!
- Classes and Skills – classes should be less rigid and more customisable, and better balanced for all kind of gameplay, so that one class wasn’t great for PvE but useless in PvP.
The trait system is designed to address just this sort of issue (although whether you think it’s successful in this after the latest update is up to you). Traits allow all characters to be different by build and let you have a personal fighting style, but the structured skill bar keeps it accessible for the less hardcore among us.
- Technical Enchancements – better AI and things like physics engines, or at least some steps in that direction.
This is something else we’ll have to wait and see, and games are improving these things across the board now. We have jumping puzzles though!
- Item Crafting and Player Economy – players want a system where crafting is meaningful, rather than where crafted items are almost always inferior to drops. Investing in craft skills should be a profitable choice.
Ravious’s beta post about the crafting system suggests GW2 may be well on its way to this; at the very least, cooking should parallel the large amount of consumables that seem to be in the game.
- Combat and Skill – then as now, players were sick of being able to blunder through with auto-attack and macros. They wanted something more complex where personal skill actually came into it.
‘Action combat’ is a phrase thrown around a lot nowadays, in response to just such a complaint. GW2 is one of many moving more in that direction. But one survey respondent suggested a system where characters fall unconscious before dying so that allies have a chance to revive them – that specific request is answered with the downed state.
- Downtime – here meaning not server downtime, but the time spent doing nothing in a game because you’re waiting for the conditions to be right. “When I have 1-2 hours to play, I don’t want to have to wait an hour to find the perfect group,” one respondent says.
That same respondent goes on to say how useful it would be to have NPC henchmen available; he evidently wasn’t one of the seven respondents who played Guild Wars. GW2 answers the wider issue as well though, designing classes so that any combination of people can spec themselves for a specific challenge. No more waiting half an hour for a healer!
Phew! It was a long list, but we’re not done yet. The above were things that players would have liked to see impoved upon from the games they were currently playing. It’s a fairly representative list, with most of its items either being adressed by many newer games or still being demanded by players. This survey went on to ask what new features these MMORPG players would like to see implemented in future games. Their answers?
- Player Impact in the Game World – “how can thousands of subscribers all feel like the hero?” It’s an integral issue, perhaps the main one dividing single-player RPGs from MMORPGs today, at least in terms of story. Players wanted to see the impact of their actions, to make permanent changes such as overthrowing a ruler (even a player one!)
The personal story in GW2 has the extreme end of this – you personally make decisions which determine who lives and dies, and instanced areas enable the game to show everyone their own consequences. On the broader end, WvW gives the PvP incentive in-world and dynamic event chains allows the success or failure of a quest to actually show, at least for a while.
- Player-Created and Controlled Content – since designers can’t make content as fast as players play it, it was suggested that players should be able to design for each other. On a grand scale this could mean players environments by building, but it could also simply mean players putting out requests for resources (or a PvP bounty) and other players taking them as quests.
This is a fascinating idea, and I don’t know of anyone who has really embraced it. Sorry, no GW2 answer for this one (although World vs. World might end up having some tasters).
- Technical Enhancements – games should provide things like voice chat, so that people don’t have to rely on third party programs.
I read somewhere that WoW added this. I don’t believe GW2 has built-in voice chat.
- Mini-Games – fun diversions outside the main game mechanics and levelling, as found in some Final Fantasy games.
GW2 has these! The most famous being the perpetual norn tavern brawl.
- Item Crafting and Player Economy – it was suggested that rather than (often nonsensical) drops, all gear could be crafted. This would shift the economy, with players being more reliant on other players.
Interesting, but this hasn’t emerged in the mainstream of fantasy MMORPGs (things like EVE continue to be available for the economically inclined though, and that game is still thriving). GW2 will most likey still centre around drops and/or event rewards.
- Player Aging and Death – respondents made some iffy but interesting suggestions about aging, permadeath, and dying players being able to bequeath some inheritance of experience or gear to friends.
This would be complicated to implement, especially within a subsciption model! No permadeath in GW2, in fact it’s much harder to actually die.
- Dynamic Environments – a world which does things on its own, such as weather, floods, forest fires, to make the setting feel more natural and alive.
GW2 has dynamic events, which will probably alter the environment at various stages, but as far as I know the land is more or less constant. There is a day/night cycle.
- Dynamic Content and Quests – available quests should relate to character choices and background rather than being the same for everyone every time. Random elements in dungeons could be determined by past decisions.
Now we’re talking! GW2 dynamic events (filling the role of available quests) are not related to your personal decisions, but the actions of the players in the world in general. What happened in one part shapes what the next event will be. Meanwhile, the personal story branches in a variety of ways based on player choices.
- Realtime Combat and Damages – cooldowns make combat feel turn-based and dull, where it should be more active. Damage should be more precise, for example relating to where on the body one was hit, more like a first-person shooter.
GW2 still uses cooldowns and hit points. However, movement and dodging add an active element. It’s still not FPS level detail.
- NPC Interaction – NPCs should be less static, and should go about their business like real people rather then standing day and night waiting for an adventurer to talk to them.
GW2 has plenty of this. NPCs in cities have conversations without you, children run around playing games; making the cities in particular feel alive was a major goal. Somewhere like Divinity’s Reach should remind you of a social MUD rather than an ‘all combat all the time’ game.
- Evolution – by providing a long time scale, the world and its denizens should evolve observably over time – technologically and/or biologically.
Er… GW2 is set 250 years after the original Guild Wars and on the same continent? That’s the best I have. Spore addressed this interest, but major MMORPGs haven’t.
So there you have it. In a remarkable number of cases, Guild Wars 2 provides solutions to the problems and answers to the dreams of the MMORPG players population of 2008. Some of them have been addressed by other games in the last few years, and many of them are part of a broad shift in priorities for online games. Nonetheless, you have to admit: if there’s a third generation of MMORPGs on the horizon, Rift may have heralded it – The Old Republic and TERA may contribute to it – but Guild Wars 2 should be its epitome.