Guild Wars 2: A Living, Breathing World
by, 06-06-2012 at 10:46 PM (2133 Views)
An issue of PC Gamer from May 2007 proclaims on its cover: "HOT NEWS: GUILD WARS CAMPAIGNS CANCELLED! ACCOUNCING... GUILD WARS 2!" The article inside states: "Guild Wars 2 won't be coming out in six months, or even six months after that. More like two years, says ArenaNet—expect a beta sometime in 2008."
Oh, you silly, silly ArenaNet. How naive and optimistic you were.
Flashforward to April 27, 2012 as Guild Wars fanatics at large finally got their first taste of the Big Sequel in a painfully short beta weekend event. ... And let me tell you, it was glorious.
If you never played the original Guild Wars, consider it a sort of-MMORPG that contained all the quests, dungeons, PVP and content of a World of Warcraft, but without a monthly fee. Guild Wars used "instanced" environments (rather than a "persistent" world) to eliminate the need for expensive-to-maintain servers. It may not have been a true MMO (if there is even an agreed upon definition) but it delivered an online, cooperative role playing experience that bested its competition in scope, complexity, aesthetics, and fun.
Guild Wars 2 retains the no monthly fee, all fun and no grind philosophy of its big brother, but now operates in a persistent world.
ArenaNet's manifesto trailer laments the current crop of MMOs: "Everybody around you is doing the same thing you are doing. The boss you just killed respawns ten minutes later." Guild Wars 2, they say, is different. "A single decision made by a player cascades in a chain of events. ... You are rescuing a village that will stay rescued."
Is this true? Based on what I've experienced in the betas so far the answer is a firm "no." That's not really surprising, since a game that is being played by millions of players simultaneously can't change in any fundamental way. How could it? If I rescued a village from a centaur attack and that village stays rescued, haven't I just deprived every other player of content? Of course the village can't stay rescued for the rest of the game's lifespan, or a month or a week, or there'd be nothing to do. It's more accurate to say the village stays rescued for... an hour. And that boss that respawns ten minutes later? In Guild Wars 2 maybe it takes... twenty minutes.
I like to think of Guild Wars 2's dynamic questing events as a pendulum. You happen upon a farmer in a field. Running through an area, the game flashes "new event nearby." Suddenly a wave of centaurs appears over the hills. You were only in the neighborhood to water the farmer's crops (like in every RPG, the NPCs are too lazy to do anything themselves) but now you have these hoofed beasts to repel. You fail, though. The centaurs overwhelmed you. Now they've moved into the nearby village. (The pendulum swings to the left.) But with the assistance of other players you successfully defend the village and the village NPCs reappear offering their thanks and rewards. Ten minutes later, the centaurs go after that poor farmer again. (The pendulum swings to the middle.) This time, you and your new friends save the farmer and his fields. The game asks you to eliminate the centaur aggressors by attacking their stronghold. (The pendulum swings to the right.) You kill all the centaurs in the stronghold and pilfer their treasure. The event ends. The centaurs will eventually reappear, and the pendulum will swing back to the left, but for a time this part of the world is centaur-free. This may lead to new opportunities, like trading with an NPC that wouldn't otherwise appear in a contested area... or it might make completing another event, like escorting a caravan, easier... or a fun-to-kill troll boss could take up residence in that centaur stronghold. Kill him before the centaurs reappear and do the job for you.
While actions in Guild Wars 2 do not profoundly affect the world (that would be impossible, at least within the limits of what can be done in computer games today) they do "cascade" in some temporary sense. And you never read boxes of text from quest-giving NPCs saying something is happening when it's not. You don't click on that farmer to spawn a mob of centaurs, the centaurs appear when they appear and you're either there to witness it and participate in the event or you're not. If you're not, the event happens without you.
Because of these "dynamic events" the world of Guild Wars 2 feels alive.
Perhaps the emphasis should be on "feels" since everything resets as the pendulum swings to and fro. The cause-and-effect is merely an illusion, but it's an illusion entirely missing from other MMOs where "killing X of Y" is the standard fare. Respect to ArenaNet for creating substantially more exciting content despite the inherent limits of the genre.
I've spent the bulk of my time in the beta enjoying the real time dynamic events at the expense of my "personal story." This storyline is the "main quest" of Guild Wars 2, different for each of the five races and influenced by choices made during character creation. I like the narrated cut scenes interspersed in the personal story, but so far the instanced quests are fairly typical and the (Human) story itself very mundane. I hope when I'm done killing the bandits who took over my friends' family's inn I get to do something epic like confront one of the powerful Elder Dragons, but it's possible ArenaNet has saved the really awesome stuff for the tough five-person "dungeons" which have their own storylines.
Certainly, between the world events, personal stories, and dungeons there is no shortage of PvE content in Guild Wars 2.
Next time I'll discuss combat and "World versus World versus World" the epic 500 players-on-a-map "siege" PvP mode.