You say you want a revolution…

There’s an over-arching discussion around Guild Wars 2 which I’d like to throw my two cents into. This is the debate over whether or not this game “has changed everything” – whether or not it has revolutionised the MMORPG genre, as some have claimed it will, or whether its innovations are only superficial, leaving the same old familiar core underneath.

My sylvari finds a quaggan cult around a familiar-looking goddess statue.

So, is GW2 a completely different game from every MMO ever? No, I think it’s fair to say that it isn’t (and I’m not sure why you’d expect that it was). Has it changed some quite significant things? Evidently debatable…but I say yes – and I think those who don’t see it probably have only themselves to blame.

One of the central points on both sides of this debate is the matter of dynamic events. Are they the long-awaited answer to quest hubs, with their poor NPCs standing in the yard night and day, rain or shine, waiting for an adventurer to come along? Critics say that GW2’s questing is the same as everywhere else, under a shiny coat of paint. Sure, you don’t have to talk to NPCs to initiate heart quests, but you’re still doing repetitive activities for experience points. Sure, dynamic events spawn on various criteria and are shared co-operatively with anyone willing to come and help. Under it all, though, it’s the same deal – kill ten rats. The fact that the rats come spontaneously running out of the sewers doesn’t change the fact that we get rewarded for slaughtering the appropriate enemy of the moment, especially when players realise that the rats run every twenty minutes, and you can catch it again if you swing back then.

This is the thing: if you play Guild Wars 2 like other MMORPGs you’re familiar with, you shouldn’t be surprised that it feels the same. I see players complaining all the time that when they set out to find dynamic events they can’t. They want a quest hub, because they want experience points on tap, available when they want them so they can level up and, well, get it over with. This isn’t surprising; it’s a mentality well trained into us by MMO after MMO. The endgame is the point, and everything else is just boring necessity to get there, right? But I’ve roamed a map looking for events to complete daily quests, and it’s no fun. What is fun is heading for a destination (finishing hearts, running to personal story) and having an event happen along the way, side-tracking me into something and maybe even somewhere different.

I think Guild Wars 2 tries to teach us this in a number of ways, and not just the obvious ones. One of the other complaints often raised is the cost of waypoint travel in the game, which rises as you level up. It ends up always costing enough to make me, at least, reconsider warping everywhere. I’ve seen it argued that this counteracts the intention for players to return to earlier zones, but I think what it tries to do is encourage people to actually walk. Yes, I know, it’s revolutionary. It’s inconvenient. It’s an absurd proposition, but think about it. Guild Wars 2 has some stunning environments, exploring which is a major part of the game. It also has dynamic events, which I argue are intended to be run across, not sought out. How would this happen? Only if you spent a fair bit of time running through zones. So instant travel is available – but it’s too expensive to use all the time.

If you’re coming from a game where endgame is instance-based, with dungeons or battlegrounds, this might seem stupid. “I want to get where I want to play,” you might complain. “I’ve already explored, I just want to re-run this specific bit of content now!” But what’s the point in a dynamic world if you only ever visit areas once? Instead of popping between a series of endgame instances, Guild Wars 2 encourages you to decide, “I’m going to go clear the asura maps. I think I’ll start in Lion’s Arch and run to Rata Sum!” Along the way (even through areas you’ve already mapped) you’ll encounter dynamic events and other players. Content happens around you. That’s how the game can claim not to have an endgame, and that’s why the system is increasingly trying to discourage people from farming the same events over and over again in Orr.

Sure, you might have better chances of good level 80 drops in Orr. “Why the diminishing returns?” players ask. “There’s only one level 80 zone, and only dynamic events there. What are we supposed to do other than farm them?”

This mentality assumes that the aim of the game is to get the best possible gear, and then a legendary weapon, as fast as possible. If that’s what you want, sure, go ahead… but then what? Players rush through MMOs in the fastest, most brutally efficient way possible, then complain that there is no endgame for them. Legendary weapons, it would seem, are supposed to be a character’s lifetime achievement, a sign of a character played well past max level – like my GW1 ranger, for example, who sits today with over a hundred excess skill points. I have a feeling legendary weapons will be quite achievable through natural, casual play, as long as I’m willing to wait a while to reach them. When the very code of the game is explicitly discouraging you from farming a single area, event or dungeon, it’s time to consider that this might not be some kind of bizzare oversight or mistake on the developers’ part – it might be a design decision, very deliberately intended to guide your gameplay choices.

When I see players complaining that Guild Wars 2 doesn’t let them kill the same monsters in the same area for more than an hour or two at a time, I wonder about whether they really want a revolution in MMORPGs or not. In fact, as is often the case, xkcd said it best, if we replace ‘Facebook’ with ‘World of Warcraft’:

Another area in which this dissonance comes up is the question of whether or not Guild Wars 2 has done away with the ‘Holy Trinity’ of tank/heal/dps combat roles. I see people claiming that the trinity is not gone because they can still build tanks (and certain professions seem before for it). The fact that there are no taunts, no straight aggro mechanics, doesn’t seem to dissuade this view. More importantly to me, though, I see people saying “the trinity is far from dead, I get asked to spec for ____ or kicked for not having ____ all the time.” This, again, is an example of how if you play GW2 like any other MMO, it will feel like any other MMO. People are asking for maxed DPS characters, for certain kinds of healers, and for tanks because that’s what they think they need. The game doesn’t forbid you from playing that way, but if you don’t try something else, how would you ever know if there was innovation there or not?

So, has Guild Wars 2 changed everything? No, it hasn’t. It has built on existing conventions, and changed the way we approach some of them; as Yahtzee rightly said, “any MMORPG that convinces its population to co-operate without having to communicate with each other probably deserves some kind of medal.” The question we should perhaps be asking is, could Guild Wars 2 have changed everything at this point? Even with the smaller changes it has made, even with familiar comforts like hearts = quest hubs to ease the transition, MMO players are struggling to get their heads around the idea of an MMO that doesn’t work like everyone other MMO they’ve ever played. If we as a playerbase have been so well trained to go after certain goals in certain ways and consider everything else a waste of time, I’m not sure we want, or deserve, or are ready for a revolution in the genre.

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One Response to You say you want a revolution…

  1. Pingback: Player hypocrisy | Psychopomp

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