I was having a lot of fun in Aspect Arena, which is one of the three new activities in this bi-weekly Guild Wars 2 update, Cutthroat Politics. It’s more or less capture-the-flag with three classes (wind, sun, and lightning). I was also working on the Kiel Supporter meta-achievement, which can be filled, in part, by playing Aspect Arena.
The baseline achievement for Aspect Arena is simple and does not color gameplay. Aspect Arena Frequenter just requires 15 games to be played, but time flies when you are having fun and trying new tricks and strategies. Crystal Capper is also pretty simple because it requires that the player capture 10 crystals. In a sense it focuses gameplay, but capturing crystals is really the focus of this PvP activity anyway. Crystal Breaker was where I started seeing the achievement taint gameplay.
On paper, Crystal Breaker looks fine; kill 15 players that are holding crystals. Players do want to stop the other team from scoring. After playing 15 games, every player with reasonable skill should have a few crystal bearer kills. Yet, I saw on Tuesday night that Crystal Breaker was affecting gameplay because many people were focusing on killing crystal bearers. In some games it was laughable at how neither side wanted to pick up a crystal because the players wanted crystal bearer kills. A few times a teammate and I would stand at the base of one of the side towers waiting for some poor schmuck to get up and grab the crystal. Without that achievement, the focus would have reverted to a more natural gameplay state.
In olden times, there would be two content guides in order of focus: quests and achievements. The quest line for the content update would direct people to the content, where they could check that content off for completing the quest. An achievement would increase the content’s playable time or skill become a content guide for an additional challenge. Players then could have the feeling of pure completion (“I did all the quests!”) without bashing their heads against really difficult achievements. The casuals and hardcore each had their cake.
In Guild Wars 2, achievements have replaced quests wholesale in these bi-weekly updates. Players now look to achievements as content guides and additional challenges. The separation of time and skill is no longer there as pure content guides (go watch this cut scene), reasonable play expectations (play a few games), and difficult challenges (don’t get hit by lasers, ever) are all crammed in to one place. In my opinion, this puts way more focus on unintended ways to play.
Another Cutthroat Politics achievement is Southsun Survival’s (Guild Wars 2 Hunger Games PvP) High Scorer achievement requiring 2500 points to complete. Forums seem to suggest that the average points/game is about 30-70 with each game lasting 10-15 minutes. Instead of focusing on being the last survivor (there is no second place survivor), players are now trying to find ways to maximize point gain per game without worrying as much about being a survivor. One player wrote a really good way to play the game entitled “How To Get Points”. Other players are killing themselves in the water to become a point-gaining ghost as quickly as possible. Is this all intended gameplay? Probably, but I feel that a very time-consuming achievement is putting much greater focus on points than would exist if the achievement wasn’t there.
The most disappointing culprit is Advanced Support, which requires players to complete Tiers 3 and 4 of the Candidate Trials, a PvE defense-type activity. Instead of coming together as a flash community to figure out how to beat some incredibly difficult content, players are playing solo and hiding well away from the intended defense point to cheese the plunderer NPC’s as they spawn in. These half-hidden players are then ignored by all the other enemies. The groups that want to get together to beat the upper tiers legit seem few and far between.
I feel again that the using achievements as primary content guide and additional challenges in one go is the main culprit. Would these issues with Cutthroat Politics activities exist without the offending achievements? Perhaps, but not to such a great degree. I feel this is incredibly compounded by the time pressure, and it always feels and looks worse in the 2-week period of content. The Bazaar of the Four Winds achievements by comparison felt perfect.
All of this is relatively small potatoes compared to actual gameplay instead of achievement-colored gamplay, but I do find it interesting to see what has happened in this quest-less world of Guild Wars 2. Small changes seem to have some unintended consequences. I know I feel much more inclined to do achievements, which in any other MMO, I would have ignored. Others probably are able to see through that theory of fun to walk their own path in Guild Wars 2. I do hope that each scoreboard of achievements, ArenaNet can learn and improve based on the statistics we will never see.