Sunday, 15 January 2012

Why I have really high hopes for Guild Wars 2

Recently I was reading some comments on blogs when I came across a statement saying that Guild Wars was a really bad game because it was way too hard so much so that it is impossible to solo. My first reaction was what's this person talking about? I made it a point to finish the entire Guild Wars storyline including expansions solo and while I struggled a bit in a few place I did succeed in finishing every single mission without a single human player on my team. But then I thought a bit more. I too had struggled a bit at first, wait what I am talking about, in places I was still struggling after 300+ hours of game time. You see Guild Wars isn't like your typical MMO. In most MMOs if you're struggling it means you need to level up or get better equipment but that stuff is just a minor detail in Guild Wars. The game tries to tell you that with its really low Level cap of 20 and the fact most equipment has the same stats with just different looks. In Guild Wars if you're struggling it instead means you need a better strategy.

At its core in Guild Wars essentially what you depend on are 8 skills that you select out of a pool of 100s. These 8 skills range from Damage dealing, buffs, heals, conditions and Hexes. At first glance many of them seem similar but what sets them apart is how they interact with each other and with their target. For example a particular skill might do more damage if its cast on an enemy that's set on fire thus it is useful if you intend to use such a skill to have some other skill that inflicts a burning condition. There are really countless combination such as this that a player can make use of. Additionally with you one can either take 3-7 other player characters, henchmen or Heroes. Henchmen and Heroes are AI controlled companions with the deference between them being Henchmen come with there own immutable set of skills while you get total control on what skills, armor and weapons Heroes carry. It is amazing how important your choice of skills is. There is a particular dungeon called Glint's Challenge. This was just beyond me, I spend two whole weeks trying different builds to tackle this but I never made it past the 1st wave and there are 8 waves on has to complete in order to finish the dungeon!. I tried focusing on healing, group damage, interrupts nothing seemed to work. After two weeks or so I was ready to give up and thus I turned to the internet for advice. Someone was suggesting a Build that they said was able to complete the dungeon without any player interaction. I just couldn’t believe it but turns out it was true. That's the level of difference your choice in skill makes.

But I am running out of point, why does all this give me high hopes for Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet have promised a lot of things for Guild Wars 2 some of which is just amazing. I understand why some people are skeptic I would be too if I had not experienced Guild Wars before. People who did not give
Guild Wars a chance probably walked away with the idea that the game is cheap and devoid of content since it has a level cap of 20 and items have essentially the same stats. Had they experienced it properly I believe they would have realized that these design choices were needed because of the fine tuned balance of the game. At max level, if you do not pay attention you can still die in low level areas! Players that didn’t play Guild Wars might view the game as being cheap because it was instanced when in fact the instancing added to the realism. I still remember my first day in Guild Wars an NPC asked me to pick up some eggs for him as giant spiders made it impossible for him a simple farmer to accomplish the deed on his own but while in other MMOs you would expect the guy to just stay there waiting while you risked your life for him, in Guild Wars he came with me and asked me to guard him while he picked up the eggs, if he got killed I wouldn’t be able to just walk back and take the quest again as he would no longer be there were I met him the first time, well at least until you close and restart the whole instance. That simple act got me hooked to the game. For me that simple event added a lot to the immersion in the game world.

What I am trying to say here is Guild Wars already had a hint of what is being promised to us in Guild Wars 2. It might not have been a living persistent dynamic world but while in an instance things followed logic as one would expect. If an NPC died it stayed dead while that instance existed. NPC behaviour made sense. If someone asks you to join their fight, they're gonna be right there next to you when the fighting starts, they will not expect you to win the war for them while they remain comfortably at home. These little things made me realize how much attention to detail ArenaNet pay and because of my experience with Guild Wars I have no doubt that they know what it is that needs to be done to create a great impressive MMO.

I understand that knowing what needs to be done and doing it are two different things and obviously we'll not know if they will deliver on their promises until we play Guild Wars 2 ourselves. However if anyone can do what they have promised I do believe it is them. From what we have seen so far Guild Wars 2 has an excellent art style, amazing music and great lore. They also certainly have the right idea of how to build an impressive experience. Knowing all this I cannot help myself but have high expectations for Guild War 2. If they deliver all of it as they promise and I believe they really can, then we'll certainly get one great MMO that should not be missed.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Grinding is a major concern to a lot of players. It is in fact prevalent in a number of game to different degrees. In some games grinding is in your face. In these games you get to a point that to level up quests just will not do it and you're forced to kill massive amount of monsters until you have enough XP to level up. Other games do this subtlety but its still very frustrating. In these games you will get to meet an NPC, he will tell you some crazy story. He will say something like "I weave shirts for a living but I ran out of material, go kill  some specific animals and get me 20 hides " okey fine, so you spend a few minutes to get to this horde of animals, you exterminate them one by one while the other animals just look at you with no worries at all. Then it turns out while all animals should have a hide this does not drop with each kill, I guess I can understand that as maybe I am botching some of the skinning procedures and ruin some of the hides. Ultimately you end up killing 50 animals to get the 20 hides, fine you walk back to the NPC. Happily you present the NPC the hides you so painstakingly collected but it turns out he's missing buttons to complete his shirt. Surprise Surprise he creates the buttons off the teeth of those same animals, but obviously he couldn't think of that before, oh no he needs to send you back again right back where you just came from... FINE you walk back kill an animal and what no teeth? It can be plausible that I don't get a hide with each kill but that just does not make sense for a tooth! each animal has a mouth full of the stuff how come I need to kill 5 of them before I get just one tooth? Anyhow you exterminate the animals and walk back and suddenly the NPC realizes he needs fur too.. Geee you got to be kidding me! If you played a number of MMOs I am sure all this sounds familiar.

Guild wars is different, NPCs do not ask you to go kill a number of monsters, that doesn't exist in Guild Wars. Each mission is part of the story-line and your objectives will be aligned to that story line. While achieving your goal you will come across monsters and enemy patrols and some of these will need to be engaged while others you can just walk around. One might see this as just another type of grind in disguise however not once did I feel like this was boring or irritating to me, It's probably just psychological but it does feel different.

This is even more apparent if you try to achieve the Vanquisher Title. Guild Wars as already stated is made up of a number of instances, these instance are really large and they are populated by a number of monsters and enemy that patrol around. To get the Vanquisher title you need to go through each instance in hard mode and kill all the monsters and enemy in that instance. On average that means killing 250 monsters and hard mode is actually a little hard. Technically this should be really bad grind, takes about 2 hours to finish one instance however it actually feels enjoyable. I cannot fully explain it but I really find I actually quite enjoy doing it. It's either cause you have a specific objective or because there is purpose to the grind or perhaps even cause the whole endeavor is challenging. The whole vanquish process is rewarding in that while doing it, the progress actually contributes to three different titles, The vanquish title, the explorer tile as well as faction title.  What maybe even more important is that you're not forced to get titles, that's entirely up to you however if you go for it, the rewards do not end in Guild Wars 2. Titles contribute to the hall of monuments points which in turn will give players rewards in Guild Wars 2 when this is released.

What makes Guild Wars different is that it doesn't go with the accepted formula. It might be frustrating but when playing other MMOs then Guild Wars we do not question the major fallouts like how can a monsters not drop one single tooth when killed. In reality it doesn't make sense yet we accept it as in MMOs this is "normal" way of things. This is one reason why playing Guild Wars is such a pleasure! Better yet from what ArenaNet have been saying so far, these kind of questions are at the core for the design of Guild Wars 2.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Doing Things Differently

MMOs get old. What might have been cutting edge at the time of release gets quite dated as time goes by. Every MMO gets periodic updates to keep the game interesting and engaging and while some games update the look to keep graphics updated together with the story there comes a point when this is no longer possible. If the game is successful this generally leads to a sequel. In many cases, at least as far as I am aware from the cases I know, the new game will be treated as  a completely separate game. Once released, people can join the new game and/or continue playing the old game if they so desire however both games are kept at arms length from each other. They may share the same universe but that's just it.

As one comes to expect from ArenaNet they deviate from the usual establish procedure even on this. Apart from releasing several news updates after Guild Wars 2 was announced, ArenaNet started working on moving the flow of the Guild Wars game towards Guild Wars 2. It all started with the release of Eye of the North, an expansion for Guild Wars. This Expansion not only moves the story in a direction that ties it with Guild Wars 2 (that is based 250 years after Guild Wars) but also introduced the Hall Of Monuments. 

Hall of Monuments is a really good original Idea by ArenaNet. It provides points based on Titles and other Achievements. These points are not easy to get but once one achieves a point when Guild Wars 2 is released these points can be used to get some really good looking unique Equipment. This makes the whole experience even more engaging. It gives more purpose to the game and more importantly provides a worth while goal to achieve. To get all the possible rewards will take a new player months if not years to achieve, it is not easy but that in turn makes the whole achievement more satisfying as it feels that every piece of equipment earned is really and thoroughly deserved.  ArenaNet have already stated that they intend to keep Guild Wars running after the release of Guild Wars 2 so long as people still play. Further more the Hall of Monuments and its rewards will still be achievable even after Guild Wars 2 is released. Existant players can make use of the Hall of Monuments Calculator to see how many points they have earned, what rewards they get in Guild Wars 2 as well as what other achievements they need to get more rewards.
ArenaNet did not stop here either, together with some acclaimed authors, three books are planned to explain what happened in the 250 years that separates Guild Wars from Guild Wars 2. Two of these have been published at the time of this blog entry.

Work on Guild Wars did not stop either, updates are constantly being made with new missions and a continuation of the Guild Wars story. ArenaNet also update Guild Wars to change with the theme of the season. As I am writing this now Guild Wars is currently running a Halloween theme. The changes for Halloween where not minor either, with main cities being changed to fit the necessary ambient as seen in the screenshots below.

Tying the two games like ArenaNet is doing makes the whole transition more believable and keeps the story flowing. Guild Wars 2 feels like a natural extension to Guild Wars rather then a completely new game and that is a very good thing.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

How it all started

Many years ago I started playing MMOs, I started out playing a couple of pay to play MMOs with a friend. Soon afterwards I came across GuildWars. Unfortunately at that time I was still new to the whole MMO world and I let myself be influenced by other people's opinions. People were saying that you cannot have a good MMO without a subscription. Some were saying that GuildWars is not even a really MMO because it is all instanced. Basically I let others convince me that GuildWars was a cheap MMO with some serious limitations so when I checked out a few screenshots I got the impression that guild wars seemed to be a game mostly about PvP and just a little PvE content thrown. I am mostly a PvE person so I just moved on. BAD MISTAKE.

Some time later I was hearing about GuildWars on the news so I decided to give the demo a try, people were still talking about it so I said there must be something to this game. Unfortunately I had an unforeseen busy couple of weeks after I started my account and I really didn't play the demo much until my 14days expired. In the few hours I played the only thing I got was how desolate GuildWars seemed to be so and this just reinforced my bad impression. For the second time I moved on, Second Bad Mistake!

Time went by and now news on GuildWars 2 started coming out. I was reading about what Arenanet were planning for GuildWars 2 and some of the ideas were just amazing! I have played a lot of MMOs both Pay to Play and Free to Play. I have long since learned that the notion of any MMO that doesn't have a subscription is inherently inferior is completely wrong. Though there are many amazing MMOs out there and many are really enjoyable they all have a few immersion breaking compromises. Monsters re-spawning out of nowhere soon after being killed. Everyone getting the same quest over and over again, etc... And GuildWars 2 was promising a new breed of MMO that would actually go around these limitations. What they were proposing was simply put out of this world.

Now on one hand I had this news that was promising a close to perfect MMO with features never before heard of in any online game and on the other hand I had my bad impression of GuildWars, the two conflicted. In my mind it was either that GuildWars 2 was being overhypted or I was seriously wrong about GuildWars because there was no way a development team would go from a basic game like my bad impression of GuildWars stated to MMO perfection. What Arenanet was promising for GuildWars 2 was so amazing that I just could not risk it so I immediately ordered GuildWars to find out once and for all. Finally I had the one good Idea and what even more important I acted on it.

Simply put I had a bad impression of GuildWars on all counts. GuildWars was already an Amazing MMO with some really good ideas and for years I missed the longed for experience. What I thought were limitations were in fact good design Ideas. Yes most of GuildWars is instanced but that allows for some unique quests and while in the instance whatever dies stays dead (except players). GuildWars has a level cap of 20 but that's not because it lacks content, in fact it has a huge amount of content, but because GuildWars has an incredible balanced system.

With this blog I hope to explain what makes GuildWars an amazing MMO and how this will be taken to the next level in GuildWars 2. Hopefully if there is someone skeptic about this amazing game, they will come across this blog and s/he will see the richness of the story, game mechanics and the amazing variety GuildWars provides. Knowing all this there is not doubt Arenanet will deliver an amazing experience with their next installment in the GuildWars universe but until then GuildWars is still an amazing alternative.