[GW2] Questless Side-Effects

Going through the PvE zones at a calmer, realer pace is an eye opener compared to the brief periods of play I had before launch. The questless design is simply a different animal than a quest-based MMO. I wouldn’t say that one has victory of the other, but I do know that I am having more fun in Guild Wars 2 than I’ve had knocking out all the quests in a hub and then moving on.

The biggest side effect is the “who cares” effect. I am not fighting for resources or time against other players anymore. We are not racing to the shiny moss or seeing who can tag the respawn first. I am just about to kill a centaur and Joe Bob Ranger runs up and hits it for a few shots. I know he will get experience and loot, and who cares. Some people still do, it seems, as I’ve seen a few chat occasions where players whine about leeching.

For the most part open world PvE can be played “solo”. Ignore downed players. Don’t join events. Play how you want to. The game, I feel, is a lot more fun when my actions do respond to the nearby players. If I see a player taking down a normal mob, I will help out. I may have only saved that player a second or two of their time, but I also get an easier pass at experience and loot. Not a bad tradeoff.

Unfortunately, there is another side to the “who cares” when there are simply too many players. Guild Wars 2 open world PvE can handle this launch concurrency, and it is fun. It does not feel optimal. There is a secret champion spider just northeast of Lion’s Arch at the Almuten Mansion. Find some spider squishies in between the house area (on the outside) and squish them all. Out pops mama spider, none too happy. The fight started great with me and another trying to lock down mama spider without getting hit. By the end of the fight we had about 6 players, and it was starting to get to the bad side of “who cares” where I feel less like an individual than a nameless part of the herd. My actions were less important than the sum of our parts.

I feel that in a few months the zones will be a little quieter, more events will be done solo, and groups will congregate around larger meta-events. Perhaps I will be more likely to gravitate around a passersby player instead of ignoring them and going on my way. I see glimpses of that now and then, especially during the early morning hours on the server. Starting an alternate character a month or two from now will be a completely different experience. I wonder if this already the norm on lower population servers, if there are any.

Another side effect is the removal of the “gear path” effect of a quest-based system. It’s harder to see until about level 20 or so, but then I started noticing gaps in my gear. In a quest-based system, the norm seems to be to give players most, if not all, the gear they need by completing the quests. In World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online, sometimes I would get frustrated at the lack of holes as crafting my own gear would be a waste of resources compared to just completing the quests at the local hub. It wasn’t until later at level cap that crafting would catch up to all the quest rewards.

In Guild Wars 2, personal story “quest” rewards and drops leave plenty of holes to fill. A lot of these can be patched by renown NPC’s that sell bits of armor for karma. Yet, I have found that as a ravaging necromancer (precision + condition damage), most of the time the renown NPC is not selling items helpful to my build.

This puts more emphasis on crafting and the Trading Post (now up!) where there is plenty of gear to be found that will fill replace those level 10 shoes that have been worn for the past 20 levels. I’ve kept up with artificing, and as such I’ve had great weapons every 5 levels. There is no way my weapon would be so honed to my playstyle if I hadn’t. This removal of the “gear path” effect might seem like a negative, but I am grateful that emphasis has been taken away from baby-fed rewards.

The final effect for this post is the “stark content” effect. In vanilla MMOs it is so easy to create intern-level quests to fill out an area. Create a kill ten rats quest, a gather ten rat tail quest, and a shiny moss quest and another quest hub is ready to rock. It sucks, but it is content. With the questless design of Guild Wars 2, content while split between renown activities (hearts) and events, feels more ambiguous. I play how I want usually with the idea of completing the heart or event in mind. This is a fantastic, elated feeling when there are continuous drips of goals in place. When it feels like there is a dearth of events, the effect is quite a stark one from the high feeling of constant action.

I felt this specifically in Brisban Wildlands. The eastern half of the zone is really well done. Skrittsburgh alone is on the must-sees for the Tyrian tour. There are nice event chains, and it seems fairly active all around. The western half seemed desolate. Sure, it was filled with tons of outlaw camps and the great historical zone including ol’ Fort Koga and Henge of Denravi, and the renown activities were really top notch. It felt light on events. It felt like players were rushing through to get hearts completed instead of enjoying the area. There seemed to be less reason to stay. There seemed to be less story to find. It felt unfinished by comparison. The southwest corner I am especially disappointed in because it felt like storming the outlaw stronghold or renewing the Henge’s energy should have been epic meta-events. Those should have been the zone capstones instead of places to pass by, get out of the car, and have my Kodak moment.

When Guild Wars 2 is on all eight, it is a powerful, beautiful MMO. Yet, the questless design requires more intensive care from the developers. It also requires a shift in player perspective. If I had played Brisban Wildlands less like a checklist and more like a kung-fu wanderer, I know there would have been no stark content shift. The west side would have felt less energetic, but it would have mattered much less. Thankfully my next three zones, Kessex Hills, Gendarran Fields, and now Harathi Highlands, have felt very, very energetic. They feel alive, and that is where the Guild Wars 2 open world PvE design shines like the brightest star.

–Ravious

8 thoughts on “[GW2] Questless Side-Effects”

  1. Right after the server reboot last night, I got to one of those Hrathi ogre towns that was hostile by myself. Started to carefully pull one at a time to work my way to get the PoI. Another players showed up and as we got further into town an event to rescue an ogre in a cage in the middle of town popped up. The two of us never talked, but just used fields, banners and buffs and working the same pulls we rescued the ogre and got the PoI at the same time.

    I noticed a named ogre spawned soon after the other ogre left so I got out of town and decided to catch back up to the escapee ogre. Found him and my partner from town attempting to capture a veteran siege devourer so I jumped in and helped. Both of us players then ran to grab some ore and herbs in the area after, when a new event popped up about helping the friendly ogre defeat the named ogre I had seen earler. We both ran back to the town.

    Between the friendly ogre, his new pet and the two of us working together we beat back the hostile town inhabitants, defeated the hostile ogre chief and flipped the town to friendly.

    I probably could have soloed the event chain, but it was safer and more fun to have someone else to work with (even though we never really communicated other than through positioning and the visual effects of our skills). If it had been a high traffic time with a dozen players, the events would have probably devolved into a chaotic 1-spam mulch fest. The combat in GW2 is really well designed for small groups to work together using position and visual skill effects to communicate, too many people makes it more of a blur of pyrotechnics than tactical combat.

  2. I find it hard to address this since my playstyle is so unlike what I read of the way most other people play. I pay little attention to quest hubs in any MMO and always do my own thing, often with no goal or intent other than seeing what’s over the next hill.

    Then, as a crafter trying to maintain self-sufficiency I’m far more interested in slaughtering vast quantities of wildlife, bandits and anything that has something I can use than I am in doing anything for any NPC.

    GW2 is top-notch for facilitating this style of play, but really I can and do play like this with great satisfaction in almost all MMOs. The only real difference in GW2 is the part where as you describe we can all help out as and when we like without risking leeching or kill-stealing. That let’s me indulge my “Littlest Hobo” fantasies, roaming from map to map, helping out and moving on.

    There’s so much discussion of game mechanics, zone flow, scaling, end-game and the like going on in the blogosphere that I sometimes wonder whether people really want to break free of their comfortable chains, or whether they wouldn’t really rather have a more straightforward plan laid down to follow. I suspect that the void will soon be filled with “leveling up” guides that allow people to maximize their karma and minimize their leveling time. I won’t be following one.

    One thing I would say relates to your experience with the Champion spider and the “who cares” effect. I’m feeling some of that with most Veteran mobs, let alone Champions. If they’re harder to kill but don’t drop better or different (or any) loot and don’t block the way to somewhere, what’s the point of them? I avoid them now unless I need to clear them out of the way to get to something.

    1. I think the difference worth noting with GW2 is not that it somehow lets you play differently (which, as you say, you can do anywhere if you choose to) – it’s that it both encourages and rewards this kind of play. In other games, not only most players but many game mechanics and incentives seem to imply that if you’re not clearing quest hubs and staying in the area that gives you optimal EXP, you’re somehow doing it WRONG.

  3. Yeah I’d say, despite scaling, more than six is overkill for most events, even for group events 3 to 5 feels satisfying, more than 6 not so much. I’d say about 7-10 is about right for meta-events, well the fairly straight-forward ones I’ve encountered so far in the starting zones.

    The frequency of events is a bit off too, I think players are getting a little fed up of the giant attacking Nageling in Diessa Plains, a tough mob with high health and no loot for the effort. I’m not sure if it’s right idea to expect events every single time going to an area, and some events are really well hidden and not obvious unless you interact with an item, or find rare loot drops like the key to Oola’s lab, and I’ve found some blocked off doors which definitely had explorable areas behind them.

  4. It really does need to gel, to coalesce into something more. I think guilds are developing and will be a major part of this, but the vast majority of players who want to just go do stuff aren’t really interacting with each other yet. Part of that is: most places are so actively respawning, there is no safe place to sit and talk for a bit and there are no guild halls (!) that you can guest people in to, so recruiting or even just friending is problematic.

    1. Well, there a some safe outposts, the six big cities and several spots without any enemies. Enough room for me to sit down and talk.

      However, everybody who does that in WvW deserves a kick between the legs.

  5. Just throwing this out there; the Karma vendors that unlock when you complete hearts seem to be intended as a sort of “quest reward” as they tend to have 1-3 types of items your character might use and they often are grouped by zone (so the heart vendors in a zone often have a full set of armor). That way you are not entirely reliant on drops and quests.

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