Monday, August 25, 2008

Guild Wars: The Revolution

Guild Wars has brought some truly revolutional ideas to the MMO space. Sadly, not many of them are being adopted in upcoming MMO's, but, if I was making an MMO I would certainly learn from all of the following (in rough order of importance):

1) PvP characters. In Guild Wars, you can create a PvE character and play normally, but it takes a while to get "decked out" to be competitive in PvP (as with any MMO). So, there's also the option of creating a "PvP Only" character, who essentially has access to all skills and items, but who can't engage in PvE content.

Basically, it lets you be competitive with everyone else in PvP without investing all the time do so. If you feel like dabbling in a particular class, trying out a build here and there, you can do it in 2 minutes, as opposed to the months of playtime it would take in most other games.

2) Grind for looks, not power. Guild Wars makes every effort not to be a massive grindfest timesink. They do this by:

i) Making it take very little time to hit max level. You might think it would be boring because there's nowhere to develop your character once hitting the level cap. Not true! You'll only have just started to unlock all the skills available to your class (and all the useful secondary class skills), and if you want to be able to re-spec your character to play a variety of builds, it will take a good amount of time to do so.

Plus, there's all the end game content, levelling up titles (read, achievements), etc. Most people who PvE for a little while in Guild Wars will have several "maxed out" characters to experience end game content with. That's right, you can actually play an MMO and get to try out all the classes at max level! Contrast this to WoW where it takes most people months and months to get to the level cap for just one character.

ii) Weapons/armor of max power are cheap to buy. But the downside: they don't look very "leet". If you want the cool stuff, then you put in the grinding. I you just wanna get kitted out with max gear and not fuss around for months trying to get uber lewt so you can join some hardcore raiding guild, you can do so and you'll be just as competitive in every way (just a bit less attractive :p)

3) Easy respec. In Guild Wars, you can respec while in any town. Completely. Costs nothing. 'Nuff said.

4) The combat system. Most MMO's have healers to mop up damage, ie "make red bars go up". This is traditional, and boring.

Guild Wars introduced the concept of "Protection" skills, which are cast on allies before damage is inflicted on them, with the goal of avoiding said damage. These types of skills are much more efficient than healing skills, and are really good for the game because they add an extra layer of depth and skill in terms of reading the play of the other team.

5) Observer mode. Every single top 100 team PvP match and battles in the "Hall of Heroes" are replayed on a kind of in-game TV called observer mode. Pushing "B" while in any town brings up a list of all the games you can watch. You can see what all the skills both teams use are, when they use them, what their movements are around the map, etc.

This simple feature has had a ridiculously powerful effect on the skill level of players playing the game. If someone comes up with a new team build that dominates, you can be sure they'll get to observer mode, and the build will spread like wildfire. This helps the game to be less about who's teched out with some secret build that the other team wasn't aware of, and more about who's got the best tactics to win.

6) Map travel. Oh, how I love thee. You open your map, click on the town you want to go to, and you're there. Don't get me wrong, I know some people love cruising around on their mounts in WoW, taking in the sights. I just get really bored of this sort of thing, really fast. Don't see much reason why there can't be both map travel AND nice scenery/mounts, and people can get to wherever they want to go in whichever way they please.

The remaining points are more minor, but only because the above points are so major:

7) The skill system - instead of pumping up individual skills, your points pump up the entire tree, which both seems to make more sense "realistically" speaking, and makes it easier to try out/incorporate new skills in your chosen skill tree as you come across them.

8) Short cooldowns on skills, with appropriate balance. Games like WoW are full of skills with massively broken effects, that are "balanced" by putting them on very long cooldown timers. I don't like this style of play, because you always feel like you're waiting on your favourite skills. In Guild Wars nothing has a cooldown longer than 60 seconds, and the vast majority of skills recharge in 20 seconds or less. Using skills is fun, remember?

9) No monthly fee. I've been playing Guild Wars for ~3 years now, and buying the game plus all the expansions etc cost me ~ $250 (Australian) total. If I was on a WoW-style subscription, I'd be looking at $540 from monthly fees alone, let alone the cost of the game boxes! The cost factor aside, it's also nice to know I can take a week or 2 off without feeling like I'm wasting my money.

Think of anything else that this game, or any other, has added that you think should become the 'gold standard' in fresh MMO's on the market? Think my ideas are crazy B.S. and want to rip me to shreds for mildly bashing WoW? Share your thoughts.


Thallian said...

excellent list. I do hope other games learn from this. Guild Wars has done a lot of good things. The look and feel of the game never appealed to me enough to keep playing but it is a good game, no doubt.

mbp said...

Can I add a couple of extra's to your list please?

10. The limit of 8 active skills: Tweaking builds in order to squeeze maximum utility out of those 8 slots has become a whole subgame in itself.

11. The lack of a taunt mechanic in the PVE game: The decision to break the MMO holy trinity of Tank / Heal / Damage was a brave one but I think it makes Guild Wars PVE combat a head and shoulders above any other MMO. Position and movement become far more important and PVE combat is more dynamic.

Elementalistly said...

Agreed. Collision detection while in the play field is an AWESOME game mechanic as well. This allows the placement of people, objects, etc.
The ability to move more freely while in combat, which allows the "targeting" to become more of a challenge is truly incredible.
And Thallian mentions looks, yet to me, GW looks 100 times better than LOTRO or EQ2 or WoW
The people visuals in Nightfall specifically, the landscapes updates in EoTN is incredible.
The movement of characters is also more realistic at times.

I could go on all day, but out of all games I have played, GW is the only one I keep going back to and playing.

Melf_Himself said...

Good additions guys.

I love the look of the game thallian, but I understand people who don't at the same time. I don't think it's the quality of the graphics (which are quite good, especially given the low specs of the game) so much as the art style, which is of course personal taste.

Mainly, as long as I can create a hot looking female character, I'm happy :p

The limit of 8 skills at a time (and one elite skill at a time) definitely makes things more fun mbp. At the same time, it makes the game a lot more balanced, with less skills available at any one time there's less chance of having too many broken combo's to use.

I second what you say about the taunt mechanic also, I never understood how WoW got away with doing that without the players feeling like the "realism" of the game was lower. Worse, it seems to have become the MMO standard... you see several WAR skills refer to taunt as though it's a common word that everybody will automatically understand (along the same lines of "damage", and "health").... ergh.

Collision detection is definitely useful openedge1. Guild Wars in general is all about positioning as a major component of the tactics in each battle, and collision detection puts the icing on the cake for that one.

Crimson Starfire said...

The other thing I really like about Guild Wars is the no healing or mana potions. The endless potion restocking can really hurt the virtual bank. Great to be rid of it. There was nothing more annoying in WoW, than potions in PvP. Seriously, how unfair was it to those who couldn't afford the potions?

Anonymous said...

Good post, good comments. I've also been playing Guild Wars for 3+ years and I keep coming back for the PvP. Something you didn't mention was GvG, which is typically considered the pinnacle of GW's PvP content. You see a lot less of the gimmick builds that show up in Heroes' Ascent and more balanced builds revolving around tactics rather than exploiting the current skill balance mistakes.

Tesh said...

Atlantica Online has an AutoMove function standard for all players. It's brilliant; you tell your character where you want to go, then engage the autopilot. If you don't run into baddies on the way, you're free to wander off and eat dinner, rotate the camera for screenshots, fiddle with your inventory, whatever.

There's also a "Teleport License" that allows instant travel to places previously visited, but it's a decaying product that only functions for a day. (AO is a free game fueled by microtransactions for optional items.)

There are some crazy elements to the game, too, but AutoMove is pure brilliance. Throw that in with GW's notions as you outline (most especially the business model), and you've got a beautiful design.

Melf_Himself said...

I *think* I like the sound of that AutoMove function for daily quest stuff... however I'd still want teleportation over long distances (watching a 10 minute griffin ride for the 50th time is the pinnacle of boredom for me).

It actually gives me an idea. You could remove the map markers showing the locations for quests and replace it with the AutoRun feature. Then, those that complete the quest without using AutoRun (ie figure out what to do/where to go by themselves) would get a bonus reward for quest completion. Those that 'cheat' a little and use the AutoRun would just get the standard reward.

Tesh said...

I like that idea of giving explorers a bit of a boost (by not using autorun). Autorun is a blast, but I'll be the first to admit it's a bit lazy. ...though perhaps a better word is "convenient".

In AO there is a "Travel Agency" that allows instant travel between cities, so long as you're willing to pay the cost. (Usually a couple hundred to a couple thousand gold, but since you can make that in a fight or two, it's really not an onerous price.) The microtransaction Teleport License allows you to go pretty much anywhere you've been before, at no gold cost. It's the most convenient way to travel, which is why they charge real money for it.

I really appreciate the convenience factor. I like that it's optional. I can still run around like any old character, drinking in the sights, but if I'm trying to multitask or am short on time, the autorun or other travel options are very very nice. It's telling that I have played the game more than any other online game other than Puzzle Pirates. I enjoy playing the game; it's not a chore.

Unknown said...

Well, I'd say EVE Online has been doing all of these things for a long time...

1) PvP characters: all characters are threats in PvP after 3-4 days, and even a day old character can kill a 5 year veteran, if the timing is right.

2) Same thing here, you don't have to grind to have fun at higher levels, you can immediately jump to the endgame (territorial warfare with other players)

3) EVE doesn't need respec, because all skills go towards doing actions in the game. For example, in order to have multiple clones in multiple locations, you must have a specific skill. You wouldn't want to get rid of that skill.

4) EVE's combat system uses different damage types, resistances, and different layers of armor, and places different resistances on different layers. "Buffers" and "Healers" in EVE do similar things, but in different ways. A good fleet commander gives solid boosts to shield/armor capacity, shield/armor booster/repairer amounts, and even would fit a module on his ship that augments the entire fleet's items even further.

5) Observer Mode -> EVEtv. EVEtv isn't this advanced yet, but they have commentators on the matches, for events such as the Alliance Tournament.

6) Map travel -> autopilot. Slower than manually flying somewhere, but great for AFKing. Also, when you train the right skills, you can "jump" to any station in game where you have a clone installed.

Melf_Himself said...

1) I like Eve's implementation of the class system, allowing 'epic' feeling classes (ships) while still ensuring the 'noob' classes are needed.

2) No offense but it takes forever to train things up in Eve. Yes, you can jump into battle with your little starter ship.... but if you want to change class/build (ie change ship) you have to wait for a whole bunch of real life time to elapse. In Guild Wars it takes a very short amount of in-game time to unlock new builds (and in Guild Wars 2, for 'structured PvP' there will be automatic full unlocks)

3) Eve has respec. It's called changing your ship.

4) I'm not talking about buffs to armor, which are passive, and usually broken in most games. I'm talking about short duration, active buffs that are cast as a response to particular things happening in the battlefield.

I'm not an Eve expert - does Eve feature protective abilities that can be cast on other players if you see that they're about to be spiked down?

5) Meh, Eve TV is updated weekly and is edited etc. Guild Wars observer mode shows you every game of a top 100 guild with very little delay, and you can choose where to view from so that you can figure out all the nuances of tactics that were going on during the match.

6) "Great for AFKing"... lol? My whole point here is that the game doesn't waste your time for no good reason. Monthly fee games like to do this because it keeps you playing longer.

Penny said...

Specific analysis, I will tell it to my friends who are interested in this game.