A Guild Wars 2 Postmortem (AKA Designing The End-Game First)

Scribed October 4, 2013 under The Cynic Dialogues
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I literally just deleted about 1000 words on why I think Guild Wars 2 ceased to be interesting to me. It was mostly accurate but it started to digress into specific system mechanics and why I felt they contributed to a game that just couldn’t last. Instead I’m going to shift my larger argument towards current-day MMOs approaches to end-game systems.

Lets also state that I am not jumping on the “Guild Wars 2 failed” or “Guild Wars 2 sucks” train. I had an amazing time being part of the Guild Wars 2 experience for over 6 months. I’m unfortunately locked down by an NDA as to how far my experiences went with Guild Wars 2, but lets just say I had a front row seat to the game.

With that out of the way, I will admit that it would be difficult to do a “postmortem” on Guild Wars 2 if I hadn’t indeed stopped playing it. I tried 3 times in the last 3 months to restart my play in the game, but all failed terribly to gain any traction.

The Post-Mortem

Guild Wars 2 did so many things right from the start; Group-public quests, a lack of contested resources (though I have my issues with it), a gorgeous environment, jumping puzzles, WvW, PvP, and oh so much more. It wasn’t for a lack of trying that they lost me. Indeed I attribute these items primarily as to why I was able to play the game for 6 months at all (although unemployment certainly helped).

Yet my issues were centered on specific aspects of the game that frustrated me. I wasn’t particularly a fan of their trait and ability score systems. They utilized some bastardized version of a talent tree that simultaneously gave you ability scores in sometimes unrelated areas (for example; taking a trait to do more crit damage, but increasing ability scores that increased debuff durations…which isn’t impacted by crit damage). Lots of examples exist still to this day of traits that were created purely to be filler (every tree has EXACTLY x traits). While certainly players are inclined to min-max with trait tree systems, its one thing to do so, but its another to be forced into that choice due to their being literally no other viable choices.

While recent efforts have ramped up to increase the viability of certain traits, these efforts existed since day one. Hence fault two. Fault two is their haphazard testing process. They released patches that introduced major imbalances into the PvP and WvW experiences. Elementalists reigned supreme during my last visit to Guild Wars 2; combining the ability to self-heal, deal significant damage, and then have the ability to escape unpreventably if the tables turned on them. Armies of Elementalists reigned in WvW and PvP until the next patch; which swapped the flavor the week to Mesmers by introducing a critical exploit with how their clones exploded.

You might be wondering why I’m telling you this; These artificial bugs are absolutely something that ruined game play for me, yet their existence isn’t my issue. My issue came from them taking sometimes a full month to address them. In fact, in some circumstances lead designers claimed they were working as intended and just find a different solution then relying on them (the developers) to fix it.

So yea, my issues with Guild Wars 2 were more developer-relation-ed then actual game play systems. Merely fixing issues in a timely manner would have likely reduced some frustration. Despite my relatively thick skin, it wasn’t just these issues that bothered me the most.

The Grand Daddy of Problems in MMOS

This is less centered at Guild Wars 2, though they did certain things to exacerbate the issue. My problem is games that don’t have a plan for the end game activities. Guild Wars 2 certainly folds into this club. Lets define the problem a little more for you though. First off anyone who calls it “elder-game” is a buzzword marketing toolbag (unless you work on Elder Scrolls Online, in which case I award you a point of wit).

End Game is the series or final series of activities that you want your players to do when they’ve finished or reached max-level. In popular games like World of Warcraft that means PvE Raiding. Content is introduced at a rate that allows the average raider to finish a tier of content just in time for a new one; albeit with differing levels of success.

In games like EVE Online, the content is more player driven. As their are no “levels” in EVE, the games activities are all basically end-game. Its the first part of that sentence that typically disturbs the average player and stops them from engaging in the games amazingly diverse series of activities. Player versus Player combat is a major driving force and one of the most important factors in the games end-game system. PvP in EVE drives players to try harder, mine more, build more, and adapt to a constantly changing universe.

In Guild Wars 2, we received a sort of bastardized version of both the aforementioned games. We didn’t get raiding per se but a series of dungeons (some were very unique; like the later introduced Fractals dungeon system). It wasn’t as if the dungeons were even required, however, as all of the loot was mostly pursued for purely cosmetic reasons (a so called horizontally based progression system).

Nor did we get a player driven end game in World versus World content either. WvW was touted as the primary end-game in Guild Wars 2, but it took them nearly 8 months after release to introduce any form of new content into the system. In fact, the first 8 months included a patch that REMOVED content from WvW due to an inability to stop hackers from flying around the ‘Borderlands’ maps with key map objectives called ‘Orbs’.

So basically the postmortem of Guild Wars 2 comes down to a few simple issues for me that I’ll bullet point for you TLDR folks;

The Summary

In an age of modern MMOs that have the potential to set the bar for what the next generation of the genre will aim for, the key issue plaguing every major MMO for the last year was the end game challenge. Look to Star Wars: The Old Republic and its WoW-like approach to content (without the resources of Blizzard to actually patch content in as fast as them). Also look to games like Rift, which also failed to address a reliably released content-patched-in end game.

So if your a developer, my most pressing question for your upcoming soon-to-be-released hot-shit MMO is; What are YOU hoping the player does once they consume all of your carefully crafted leveling content? That should be the first thing you release to the public when crafting your game. Why is it that HOW your subscriber spends the opening two months of the game takes precedence over telling us whats going to keep us in your game for the following 8 months?

I’ll go one step further and challenge any developer who claims they will release new “content” every so often. Can games even patch content fast enough anymore for that type of an approach to still work? The only games I’ve seen able to moderately keep up with content release schedules are World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 (Living Content blablabla… I include these releases under protest).

Ask yourself this, and I’d be interested to hear from my fellow bloggers on the issue;

Whats the end-game solution for The Elders Scrolls look like to you?
Whats the end-game solution for Wildstar at this point?
Whats the end-game solution for EverQuest-Next? (this ones sort of a trick question ;>)

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