[GW2] Hiking the Cooperative Journey

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.


18 thoughts on “[GW2] Hiking the Cooperative Journey”

  1. I too played Journey, having very similar experiences to your own. I think your GW2 comparison is not only valid but very apt. Some have been quick to claim that the ad-hoc grouping features will discourage communication, socialization, and general structure. I think that even if it means there is less chatting, there will be a greater sense of community through cooperation.

    1. agreed§! take L2 or Jx3 online, when I hit a fair lvl I used a lot of time just walking around helping people, in L2 I remember some guy that I kept running into he helped me, I helped him we did content for maybe an hour or something sometimes, and we didn’t utter a word

      and that was just awesome

  2. “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.”

    It is things like this that really start to create a community around a game, and within a game. I am really looking forward to seeing if this really happens. The “server community” is something I have really missed in MMOs for a long time.

  3. Maybe I’m missing something here that will become apparent when I finally get hands-on time with GW2 this weekend, but almost everything you describe sounds like everyday, normal gameplay in Everquest circa 1999-2002.

    Communicating with people by virtual body language – the positioning and movement of your character – was part of the lingua franca of the game. Deferring to someone over who should take a named mob, for example, would be signified by taking a step back, or one person would lead another to somewhere of interest by circling in front, facing them then backpedaling until the other followed.

    We did stuff like that as a matter of course. Yes, we also used emotes, sent tells, spoke in /say, invited people into groups but a huge amount of communication took place non-verbally. As for the example of assisting dead players, EQ and most MMOs of the period allowed full buffing, healing and rezzing from outside the group. It was absolutely commonplace for passing characters to cast all kinds of helpful buffs on complete strangers and to resurrect them when they saw them fall.

    Further than that, in those days gifting of gear, useful items and coin to people one had never met was so commonplace as to require nothing more than a polite bow or “Thanks”. Meaningful interaction between players who didn’t know each other and characters that had never met was a many-times per session occurrence for pretty much everyone.

    It’s astonishing to see how far we have come from those days of genuine, expected, automatic “community through co-operation”. Far enough that these relatively small, largely automated attempts to reinvent the wheel can appear revolutionary.

    1. Chris Thursten said it poignantly in the recent pcgamer preview. When thinking about how Guildwars 2 is designed, he concluded it answers the question “how do you do EverQuest without the nonsense?”

    2. The community in games has become so much more diverse than it was a decade or so ago and early adopters tend to bond much more easily. That’s something that applies all over the internet – and the signal to noise ratio decreases the more disparity there is in the community.

      1. Good point. I am definitely going to keep that in mind for this beta weekend. I wonder how much more noise we will get?

        1. I was just thinking the same thing. By all the reports I remember, WoW had a great beta community, too, with people having fun and sharing great experiences. See how that has developed over the years….

          So, yeah, the beta community isn’t always indicative of the post-launch community.

          1. More people will certainly change the dynamic, and maybe for the worse, but I think the difference is that the way WoW has developed seems to have actively discouraged certain kinds of community and interaction, whereas GW2 is designed to encourage it. “You should always be glad to see another player” and all that.

            At least this weekend (my first chance to play) will be pre-purchasers and not totally open. The TERA open beta was full of people who tried it out for free and spent the whole weekend talking about why it was crap in area chat.

  4. Literally nothing you typed is any different from any MMO I have ever played.

    Developers can add some extra social engineering by making auto-groups rather than requiring explicit permission to join someone, or adding bodies on the minimap, or whatever else. But developer intentions are largely irrelevant. It is the player that brings the journey with them, it is the player that makes something meaningful or not.

    Your anecdotes are cute, but I have a dozen such stories concerning just Fishing in WoW; fishing peacefully with the opposite faction on a PvP server, finding someone else fishing up in Terokkar at 1am and spontaneously chatting the night away, sneaking into Orgrimmar and trying to catch Old Crafty and doing so exactly on my 100th catch, and so on and so forth.

    I want Guild Wars 2 to succeed, largely because it sounds like a game my friends and I can play together occasionally without a subscription (and any level differences won’t matter thanks to side-kicking, etc). But nothing I have seen or heard has convinced me this game is the second coming of Christ as it is so often described.

    1. I don’t at all doubt your experiences, and I’m happy that you’ve had them, but speaking only for myself, I haven’t had one of them in 20 levels of Rift, 21 of WoW, 33 of Age of Conan, 31 of Warhammer, 18 of Aion, etc. but I did have one of them in 2 levels of a GW2 demo.

      Maybe someone like me is an oddity, but my experience is that when things like this happen, if they happen, in other MMOs, you have to wade through other unpleasantness before they happen, as rare treasures of moments inside other stuff you ignore (if the rest of the MMO isn’t what turns you on; if it is then all you have are the wonderful memories from start to finish, I suppose).

      See also: giant boss mobs fresh out of the tutorial, access to full skill set by level 10, etc. Nobody’s saying these things have never been seen in an MMO ever, but it seems to me that GW2 differs by providing access – or shall I say, “opportunity” to experience them – early and often by its composition.

      Oh, and token protest to the the second coming of Christ meme, but only out of habit since it’s brought up so many times but never referenced from actual fan claims.

      1. I agree with Randomessa. I’ve played plenty of MMOs mostly from Wow to beyond (my EQ years were spent in ATITD instead). I’ve been in great communities. Yet, the baseline PvE seemed to always trains me against having natural communication with nearby players.

        I don’t want to run towards them and see what they are doing. I don’t want to help with their mobs. I don’t want to waste time partying with them. I feel that I will simply play the game better if I am alone than with a stranger.

        Guild Wars 2 makes me want to run towards strangers and see what they are doing. It makes me want to follow them and see what spontaneous adventure erupts.

        I don’t pretend it’s the savior of all PC gaming, but I do know how I feel when I play. That’s what I write about. ;)

    2. I had tons of those experience in WoW while fishing, but only when fishing. There a kind of respect for that profession in the game. You wont see the same story if you go only do touring in Orgrimmar, most of the server will run after you, get your fishing pole and most of the horde will wave at you and start fishing along side you. Kind of strange and awesome at the same time.

    3. I could have been the Tauren Druid fishing close by… I started WoW with a group of Friends, but I had many moments like yours in WoW and other games. Fishers seemed to be nicer than most IMO. I played on a PvP server and many fishers gave way for even the other Factions. At times I even took pity on stupid allies that over agro-ed. BTW i was a LT General pre X-realms.

      IMO the game at its cheapest is $60 with no monthly. If after 3 months you are unhappy just leave with little lost.

      Ex-Rift, Ex-Warhammer,Ex-Wow, Ex-MO, Ex-Thrones of Choas (never started but was in the alpha), Ex-UO and Many Other on Trials and such.

  5. The difference is easily definable for me… other commenters have reminisced about wonderful moments in previous games and suggested that what players are describing from their experience with the GW2 beta is “nothing new.”
    The DIFFERENCE is: in those previous MMOs (for me they were EQ, Vanguard, and WOW primarily) the really great moments like this came about because players OVERCAME the natural inertia of game obstructing them. Those were exemplary people, and they absolutely “made” the gaming experience for me, but they were relatively rare, and it’s not because there are so few “nice” people in the world of online gaming – it’s because so many of the fundamental mechanics of those games create an antogonistic atmosphere to play in.

    The “big innovation” of GW2 is simply the removal of so many of those mechanics which were actually design flaws. Human beings are, by their very nature, social animals. Left to their own devices, they will naturally congregate and communicate. GW2 isn’t performing some sort of “magic” by getting players to enjoy working together and playing with a more cooperative spirit… it just got out of their way (unlike so many other games.)

    Sunspots are not dark… they are incredibly luminous and bright… they only “appear” dark on the surface of the Sun due to the contrast of all of the even brighter material surrounding them.

    I have so many fond memories from my time in previous MMOs… made the acquaintance of many truly nice people… and the great moments we shared are what endeared me to this genre of games.

    I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy my time in EQ (or any of the others) I’m just saying in contrast to the incandescence of GW2 they look like sunspots.

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