September 17, 2012

Talking Tyria: Redefining the Endgame

Talking Tyria is our editorial column that discusses the varying opinions around Guild Wars 2.

     One of the more controversial topics in Guild Wars 2 is how Arena Net handles the endgame. To give a quick definition for those not too versed in MMO lingo, the endgame is defined as progression once you hit the level cap. This is the point where you no longer improve your character stats/skills based on gaining experience and levels from quests or killing mobs. What you do once you reach this point defines what the endgame is for a particular game. Some typical endgame content that we have been accustomed with MMO's are either PVE-oriented item progression (which means we have to group up and tackle dungeons or raids to kill bosses that drop these items) or PVP-oriented (where there are several modes where we can fight against other players). Arena Net seems to be choosing a different design strategy at approaching this, like many of the game's other features, and it is causing quite a divide between players as to whether or not it is the correct decision. Basically, this one statement defines the endgame of Guild Wars 2. The endgame starts at level one.

     Let's look at it from two aspects: PVP and PVE. Starting from the less controversial of the two, PVP in Guild Wars 2 follows the same basic principle from the original game, make PVP accessible  as soon as possible. From the get go, when you have created your character, you can start jumping into the two modes of PVP available in the game currently. Structured PVP (or sPVP) is a game where you gain points by holding key points in the map and whoever gains a set number of points will win the match. When you have created your character, if you decide to go in this mode, your character is automatically scaled to level 80 with access to all of the skills and traits available for the class. You can say that sPVP is virtually a separate game altogether if you are really into the PVP scene. Progression in this mode is through a currency called Glory which you earn by participating in matches. You then use this Glory to purchase slightly stronger armor and weapons.

The Heart of the Mists is the sPVP lobby
     The second PVP mode is World versus World (or WvW). In this mode, hundreds of players from 3 matched servers vie for control of strategic points in the map to gain more points which then translates to server buffs such as increased XP gain or increased gold find. You are also scaled to level 80 but your gear and skills are carried over from solo play. This means that as you level up in PVE, you get access to more skills and gear in WvW. What's interesting about this is that you also get loot and experience in WvW meaning you can technically just play this mode all the way to the level cap. Badges of Honor are the unique currency in this mode and any items that you get with this currency are carried over to PVE as well.

     From a PVP standpoint, I can say that the implementation is quite successful. People that are in to PVP will be very much pleased that you can just go ahead and jump in without ever touching the PVE aspect of the game. This provides a healthy alternative for people and I think the development team has done a great job of introducing endgame content from level one.

     Now, the PVP piece is simple. There wasn't anything changed in terms of PVP aside from the fact that you can access it from the get go. Progression within the PVP aspect of the game is similar to what we see in other games. What's more prone to debate is PVE progression.

World vs. World panel and server bonuses
     Think about the statement The endgame starts at level one for a moment. Can you see what can be a problem for this in PVE?

     PVE (or player versus environment) is where each character tackles the content created by the game developers, be it by themselves or as a group. You basically keep doing quests and killing mobs and progress from zone to zone until you get to the maximum level. By this point, what most, if not all, MMO's do is they give you content that introduces item progression. This means that technically you can go to a certain Dungeon B without going through Dungeon A but you may find it hard/impossible to complete since your items don't boost your attributes to the point that it allows you to be productive. To keep it short, you need the items found in Dungeon A to kill stuff in Dungeon B without dying. In Guild Wars 2, this is not exactly the case.

     Like the previous Guild Wars, all max level items essentially have attribute caps. This means that you can get the maximum stat bonus of an item regardless of where you get it. This system has gotten rid of the dungeon progression paradigm for items. There is still some incentive to running different dungeons though and that is because each dungeon gives you access to different skins and runes for your armor and weapons. Not everyone thinks that this is enough of an incentive however, since we are so used to endgame dungeon progression. Several people that have reached maximum level now feel that they don't have anything else to do once they reached that level cap.

     Arena Net's defense for this mentality is that they designed the entire game to be the endgame right from the start. You get to experience things that usually developers would not let you until the higher levels. As an example, the first time I saw the Shadow Behemoth in the swamp in Queensdale, I actually felt quite epic. This means that to appreciate the game, you basically enjoy the entire journey of leveling your character. This doesn't mean that they haven't prepared anything for you once you hit level 80 though. You can do several things like run dungeons to get the exotic armor skin that you want, or explore the entire world to get all the map objectives. These are the things available to you once you reach the cap and just want to get more out of the game.

Can't deny it, I want to look like that someday
      I am on the fence on this. On one end, this technically means that anyone can actually run any dungeon the game has to offer once they get level 80 gear. But on the other hand, you no longer feel that you are growing more powerful as you continue tackling the content. To give a bit of background, I have been accustomed to games that provide gear-based content progression (e.g. WoW) and I am actually quite fond of the concept. In my opinion, having gear progression motivates a good number of players to keep playing since there is a sense of achievement and growth. I would think it's a common thing to hear from other MMO players saying "Look at this sword! It looks cool and has some great stats!". This sense of excitement in gear based progression is quite unique to having that gear ladder.

     Though I will be giving a balanced point here. I did say I am on the fence and here's why. I am intrigued by the approach of Arena Net in encouraging players to look good. Aesthetics is one of the reasons that will motivate me to keep playing certain dungeons. A group of merchants in Lion's Arch sell exotic armor for dungeon tokens. And although you need a LOT of tokens to get a complete set of armor (I'll talk about this separately), it still feels cool to be wearing cool-looking armor and running dungeons to get those feel great to me.

     I admit this has been quite a long and winding post but I can't really help it as this is a very hot topic in the forums as well as other Guild Wars 2 forums and fan sites. A lot more can be said about this topic and I think I have just talked on a couple of points but one thing is certain though, endgame in Guild Wars 2 is different. There is still a lot of things to do once you reach the level cap but it's not the same as the others. And as we all know, change can be a tough pill to swallow. In the end, it is up to you, the player, to decide whether you actually like the system or not. Personally though, for now I don't mind this type of endgame. I still find myself looking at the armors in Lion's Arch and previewing them in my character thinking someday I will get those cool looking armor sets.

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