There’s a pretty good thread over at MMORPG.com about The Tao of ArenaNet. It’s a nicely done, if a bit wordy, fan-made response to what the heck ArenaNet is doing. They are doing things different. No more quests is a huge one, yet their essence remains. Walk this way.
Since I am still waiting to play Guild Wars 2 (still, ArenaNet, still), I’ve been playing around my with my old flame, Lord of the Rings Online. It’s a good ol’ vanilla MMO with its own twists like World of Warcraft or Rift (possibly the new Star Wars MMO, which I haven’t played enough to include here). Like a good ol’ MMO, it has quest hubs which branch out to get players exploring the sub-zones. It’s a tried and true formula. Fill a sub-zone with enemies and problems, and then get players a reason to get out there. It’s fun, there’s constant activity, and it’s comfortable.
Except it’s not perfect because in creating this hitlist of monsters and boar specials, quests become selfishly personal. Players then are faced with the dilemma of playing with others in the area at the cost of efficiently crossing of the personal checklist. It’s so sad when I run by a fellow “hero” overwhelmed with orcs, and I am happier at the poor sap’s misfortune because he is making it easier for me to run by to complete my quest. Ah, now I am just rambling along on well-tread ground.
A lot of emphasis, even here, has been placed on events in Guild Wars 2 replacing quests because they are objective. Instead of “killing ten rats” players are tasked with breaking centaur morale, which involves, you know, killing a bunch of centaurs. Except now we can kill a hundred centaurs together! I want that centaur dead; you want that same exact centaur dead. That is going to be one freakin’ dead centaur. Then the event is over. The centaurian morale is broken. The fort is reclaimed. The world has moved on. This is why events are not like quests. They are… well events.
You know that time in ye good ol’ MMO you were about to run by some poor sap overwhelmed by a handful of orcs, and you joined in the fray instead. You and Mr. Sadmaple fighting side by side drawing even more aggro until you stood on top of a mound of dead orc bodies. There was the exchange of a nod, and the moment was over. That’s an event. ArenaNet took that moment, and made it a core to the PvE experience. They still don’t replace quests.
Hearts are what now replace quests, in my humble opinion. Hearts in Guild Wars 2 are the quest hubs of MMO of yore thrown in a blender and painted back over the zone. Hearts are personal like a quest checklist. Players don’t share hearts. Hearts are bound to a sub-zone. Hearts can be filled by doing a bunch of activities. And, for the kicker, hearts are a source of perpetual activities.
First look at the hobbit conclave of Maur Tulhau in Lord of the Rings Online, or your favorite quest hub from your favorite good ol’ MMO. The quests range from killing evil things, killing things for meat, picking flowers, and scraping boar droppings off the ground. Usual stuff for the most part. Now look at the very first Heart for human characters in Guild Wars 2, Help Farmer Diah. The activities range from feeding cows, watering crops, killing worms, and stomping on things that kind of look like cow patties (a.k.a. “worm holes”).
The critical difference between the two activity hubs is players can help out the Guild Wars 2 hub (a.k.a. “the farm”) however they want in order to complete it. For better or worse, the activities bound to a Heart also can change depending on the ongoing events. Completing an event seemed to account for a large part in filling up a Heart, but if a player is sick of escorting some yak to somewhere, there are plenty of other activities. How cool would it have been if I could have decided how to help Maur Tulhau how I wanted and still get that tidy completionist feeling? My character long ago gave up the life of flower picking. How dare you, stunted sir!
And, the best part. Quests as hearts are a together activity. As personal as filling that heart bar is to a player, the activities to do so are not selfish ones. Instead of a checklist of personal chores, Guild Wars 2 Hearts have a way of saying simply “just play.”
As I’ve done in the past occasionally, I’ve asked ArenaNet to see if they wanted to comment on Hearts with regard to this post. Anthony Ordon, Guild Wars 2 Game Designers, came through big time with some of his thoughts:
I’m glad you called out this feature on your blog. We showed hearts in the public demonstrations last year, but we never really explained the system to people who didn’t get a chance to play.
To clarify, heart icons represent renown regions. A renown region is the setting for an ongoing story in which you participate to win over and get rewards from the NPC that lives there. They also provide players with a static, one-time piece of content to play when local events are not running. As an added bonus, we get to sneak in some background story and ambient lore which gives context and meaning to said events. In the Farmer Diah example, you show up to the farm and start helping her get things back in order. It takes some time for you to do this, so you happen to be around for the kickoff of an event where those pesky bandits show up to torch the place. You also have a better idea of what’s going on, because the renown content supports the event content.
A very important distinction between these regions and traditional quest givers is that you do not have to interact with Farmer Diah to participate. We felt that requirement was tired and counterintuitive to the flow of gameplay and. After all, you and Mr. Sadmaple killed quite a few nasty worms making your way over to the good farmer. Why should she be any less grateful if she hadn’t asked you to do it yet?
This same logic was applied to our decision to remove the checklist and replace it with the progress bar. You fill the progress bar by doing anything and everything that contributes to the renown NPCs goals. Farmer Diah’s crops need watering just as much as those bandits need—well, murdering. We’ve already said that our goal for each region is to provide the players with a variety of objectives. But our secret goal is to make sure most of these tasks bleed into and support each other. If you stomp the worm holes, you’re probably going to fight a few worms. If you kill a bandit, you’re probably going to find the stuff they stole and have an opportunity to return it. The end result is gameplay that rewards exploration and cooperation more than your ability to follow instructions.
Speaking of rewards, participating in the renown region to fills the progress bar in the UI. When it’s filled, you’ve earned the respect and appreciation of Farmer Diah. She’ll even send you a letter containing her gratitude (as well as some bonus gold and experience). But it doesn’t quite end there. Now that Farmer Diah thinks so highly of you, you can return to her at any time and gain access to her karma goods. Karma goods replace quest rewards in the sense that you can purchase them from completed renown NPCs. Each NPC has different rewards to offer; a farmer like Diah might share her finest (consumable) vegetables or a (crafting) recipe for her favorite stew. Meanwhile, the seraph commander down the road can probably help you with gear. After you’ve helped him with this problems, that is.
The price for karma goods is paid in karma. Karma is earned by participating in events and helping others with personal story. It is not earned by participating in renown regions (but it is for participating in events that occur in those regions). The gameplay circle of life perpetuates itself with the different types of content, all of it supported by an ever-expanding selection of rewards on top of ever-replenishing method of earning them.
Thanks, Anthony! So much focus has been on events, dungeons, and PvP, but it appears that just as much design, inspiration, and love went in to creating renown activities and rewards. Can’t wait to see how it all plays out!