There is a thread on Guild Wars 2 Guru forums titled “Go away! You are upscaling my event!” It is rife with a deconstruction, from the available knowledge, of the Guild Wars 2 event system. It’s a pretty good thread detailing possible pitfalls of the event system, but most importantly it shows with all the dangers just how big of a risk ArenaNet is taking in stepping away from the standard MMO quest (!) system. It is a less tested mechanic in the MMO genre, but Warhammer Online’s public quests provide a very good Petri dish to show what ArenaNet devs will have to consider for Guild Wars 2.
The biggest problem with Warhammer Online’s public quests was the systems inability to scale according to active public quest population. Guild Wars 2 will scale, ArenaNet claims, and they’ve painted quite a few pictures of a solo player handling an event on their own. Yet, how far will it scale the other way when some critical mass is achieved and the event starts pulling in surrounding players with a gravity of its own?
In Warhammer Online I distinctly remember a public quest in Chaos Chapter 2 named Destruction of the Weak. For some reason in the early days of Warhammer Online this public quest was a hotbed of activity. It was fairly simple timed killing spree. With 50 players hammering away at a public quest aimed at perhaps 10 players, I had to fight to gain a single hit through the whole public quest. It was seemingly the best way to gain influence by completing the public quest stages in record time so even though it was not fun, players like me stuck around.
This simple early public quest shows illustrates a swath of design pitfalls for a groupless content system. This was one of the first public quests new players would experience in Warhammer Online, and the public quest could not handle the crush of players running through early content. Even if the public quest could scale up or down based on active player activity, would the algorithm be able to handle the unique situation of launch day? I don’t think the devs want to teach that too many players around equals less fun for starting players.
Then, as the title of the forum thread describes, what happens when the event does upscale because a group of 5 players arrived with swords swinging? How quickly will the event system react when the 5 players decide to leave mid-swing and leave the original 2 players with an event immediately balanced for 7 players? I can easily see a type of GoonSwarm griefing involving roving bands of “upscalers.”
Furthermore, I can’t imagine a linear scaling system being implemented for upscaling events in Guild Wars 2 because even if Destruction of the Weak in Warhammer Online spawned enough mobs for 50 players, it would not necessarily provide more action (i.e., fun). The same mobs would simply fall as quickly to players cycling through tab-targeting and area-of-effect (AoE) skills.
This leads me to another big problem that occurred in Warhammer Online’s early days: AoE death squads. These packs of nukers roamed the lands aggravating everything in sight and then nuking the creatures to oblivion with AoEs. In fairness half the problem was the class balance (e.g., Mythic’s pet Bright Wizards), but there is a significant difference between targeted spells and AoE nukes especially in the more chaotic gameplay of open groupless content. The first profession that ArenaNet disclosed for Guild Wars 2 fits the nuker role.
Destruction of the Weak is a fitting coincidence for one of my strongest memories for the public quest system because as excited as people were about “playing together without grouping” the system was too weak to handle the vagrant MMO players. I have high hopes again for such a groupless PvE system in an MMO, especially Guild Wars 2, but the past has made me a tad more wary of the many design pitfalls I pray that ArenaNet has considered long ago.