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.