Over the weekend I had a revelation in gaming. I played Journey on the PlayStation 3 (PS3). For those that have a PS3, the $15 for the game is more than worth it. It’s the story of your journey to the holy mountain. It’s rather gameplay light, and it is more about the experience. Given the amazing Metacritic score, I know I am not alone in believing it is an experience worth playing.
There is one catch to the game. As players go along they are occasionally joined by another player. Creative Director of thatgamecompany, Jenova Chen, likens Journey’s cooperative style to hiking. A player might notice another player behind and make sure the other player stays behind. A player might just let the other player pass, or the player might wait up so they can walk the holy path together. While players can unlock content gates for each other, it’s not like Portal 2’s cooperative mode where the two players have to be in constant communication to move forward.
Out of this simple canvas, magic happened. Each time I met a new red-robed pilgrim, there was a connection. Sometimes we played around not caring about moving forward. Other times we helped guide each other over the next hill. Of my two favorite moments, one I can’t share for spoiler reasons, I had a companion go up ahead, and something bad appeared to happen. I hunkered down, refusing to move for quite some time. Eventually I saw a bling in the distance as my companion was communicating with me via our one communicating button. He was waiting for me… right at the end of the level. He could have just moved on, but instead he had waited to make sure I would be okay. Experiences like that stand out in the noise of games where most human allies act like bots.
Why am I discussing Journey so much with a Guild Wars 2 tag?
Guild Wars 2 is a journey. People that are already decrying the game for lack of apparent spoonfed, endgame progression are missing the point. That is not the game that ArenaNet is making. MMO does not mean DIKU-style progression, even if World of Warcraft has refined it to a clonable science. Guild Wars 2 is also not a sandbox-style game where there are only journeys. It kind of stands in the middle.
During the past beta weekends, I completed a lot of content. It was pretty fun content too. Yet the best moments were always accompanied by strangers on our journey.
While Guild Wars 2 does have extensive communication means that are normal to MMOs like chat channels and a mailbox, communication often just happened on a microexpression-type level that was so pervasive in Journey. In one experience I told, a momentary companion just stepped back one or two feet to persuade me to go on ahead. Other times, it was the way the herd of players split, or how they fanned out. We were always communicating on such a basic level.
Yet, we cared. This is so fundamental. It doesn’t matter if a player meets the /emote king in World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, et al. if the player simply does not care to communicate. Or won’t listen. Guild Wars 2 core gameplay reinforces this simple communication.
Dead players will show up on the map and minimap. It’s a simple UI decision that ArenaNet made, but it can create really cool experiences. Is the dead player surrounded by dangerous enemies? Or did he simple overextend to the point of folly and simply needs a helping hand? Wrap this scenario up in an ongoing event and simply resurrecting a dead player can become a unique experience every time. Yet, it is also meaningful. I helped another human being. Sure, it’s about as momentous as holding the door open for a stranger, yet when the stranger says a simple “Thanks” it can brighten a gameplay session.
The best part about this journey in Guild Wars 2 is that ArenaNet also incorporated the hiking element that Chen discusses above. There were plenty of times I chose not to help nearby players. I did not become their momentary companion. I had people to do, and places to see! There were other times where it became apparent that a player and I were heading in the same direction. There’s that near-simultaneous moment of connection where we both realize that we are indeed going to both kill the Windmill King. Does it then become a race? Do we wait for each other if one person falls through the cracks or gets launched by a skritt? Or, do we help each other? There’s no right or wrong answer. It just matters that the connection is there at all. It matters that it is a choice, not the status quo.
There are still areas where pack roaming is required (WvW), or where tight, constant communication is required (dungeons) just like many other MMOs. It is just that the baseline PvE is so much different. There is no “playing together, alone” when it matters what the people around me are saying.