Well we have to start somewhere.
So let’s start with what I’m playing right now, ArenaNet’s new Guild Wars 2, their follow up the successful 2005 release. Guild Wars was a different beast than the slew of MMOs that were released around the time (namely, City of Heroes, Everquest 2 & World of Warcraft), being more focused on player vs. player combat and with a very strict set of abilities tightly balanced.
Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of Guild Wars, mostly because I’m a care bear. However, rave reviews from the beta gave me the impetuous (yes I do mean that literally) to pick up the pre-purchase version, and I have to say, I’m impressed.
Guild Wars 2 has more of the standard, successful MMO model than its older version, having a quest-based story line that is tuned well for the single player much like World of Warcraft. What has really struck me about it is that the “Blah blah lore kill 10 bad things” quest has been combined with the “also bring me 20 pieces of druid poo” and “walk over to one of the many wounded/dead/whatever objects and hit the ‘action key'” quests in a single quest that you can solve in many different ways. Also – you don’t have to talk to anyone. You just enter an area and the quest appears in your UI with a brief description of what to do.
This was a really smart idea – the troglodytes that just want to do uberpwndps can just kill stuff and they don’t even have to worry about “lol lore”, but the quest text has been incredibly well crafted. Along with a clear graphics style, you understand exactly what’s being asked of you and what you can do to help. Buildings are burning in a town and there are water buckets that you can pick up and centaurs running around lighting stuff on fire. You can glance quickly at the quest area to see there is a quest there, get a quick description of what will advance it (honestly everything will) and your progress (more there) and get cracking. Have other people killed everything? No problem, put out some fires or tend to the wounded.
Even better is that there are no quests that involve “kill 10 of these things”. There are no numbers, just a progress bar that fills up and a little flash when you’re done. Again, it keeps the immersion and doesn’t make it so mechanical as WOW.
However, the absolute best thing about the quest system is that there is no such thing as kill stealing or “tagging”. Anyone that helps gets credit, making it easy to advance quests in populated areas (no camping, no tagging, it’s like someone made “Imagine” into a MMO. Jerks.) This comes into play with open-area events, randomly generated quests that require many people to solve. There’s no need to form groups, anyone in the area will get some credit, though there is a system (gold/silver/bronze) to encourage more activity, not unlike Rift’s rift events.
The PvE leveling process is helped along by a good balance of experience point distribution. Killing things does not grant the most experience, but rather crafting & exploring. There is of course, a finite amount of exploration and crafting so this makes a lot of sense. Crafting is helped by an invention system wherein the craftsman has to learn new recipes by combining components in different combinations. This is not as complex as it first sounds since the interface will show you available possible combinations given what you have in inventory.
Exploration is one of the best aspects of the PvE experience, in my opinion. Many MMO players love to simply explore the hidden parts of the worlds crafted by game designers, GW2 actually gives you an incentive to. Each area has a number of quests, points of interest, way points (quick travel locations), skill challenges (challenging areas that give a skill point when solves) and vistas. Vistas are usually high up locations, mostly challenging to get to and require a bit of inventiveness of navigating the world. The reward is a small movie of the surrounding area, and most of the vistas show off some of the beautiful world’s most picturesque locations. Completing an area’s list of locations, skill challenges & quests will give a powerful reward, making diligence in exploration a worthwhile endeavor.
The big negative of this game: GW2 fails in explaining itself to a new player. Even veteran MMO players may be off put by the complexity of the skill system and even the quest system that I described above. The game doesn’t explain that each quest not only gives you monetary rewards (that are delivered via in-game mail, not sure why the money isn’t just given to you) but also opens access to a new vendor that has items available for in-game points system called karma. It’s not hard to figure out, but it’d be easily explained I think in the tutorial and gives the foundation for what is a cornerstone of the PvE experience.
The other complex issue of the game is skills. You are given 5 skill slots that change depending on your equipped weapon. Two handed weapons have 5 skills, main hand weapons have three skills and off hand two. Obviously a different combination of one handed weapons gives a great deal of flexibility. Every class has a row of special abilities as well – guardians have persistent passive effects that they can “turn off” for a short time to gain a larger one-time buff. Mesmers can destroy any illusion pet they have active as an attack. On top of this, each class has their choice of three healing abilities, can equip three of some 20 additional “utility” skills, and one elite… I’m confused just writing this.
Once you learn what skills do what, the game gets simpler. You can pull off some fun combos too once you get the ability to switch weapons in-combat. But for the new player, it’s a steep curve.