Monday, April 30, 2012

Burning Down The House: GW2

" Enter the living world of Guild Wars 2 - filled with thousands of dynamic events that ebb and flow through the course of your adventures. One day there may be a thriving village filled with vendors and townspeople, the next day that village may be a smoking ruin overrun by centaurs.
Dynamic events evolve and cascade across the world in response to how you, the player, interact with them, leaving persistent effects in the game world. Will you save that village or let it burn? The choice rests with you and your fellow players. "

That's the theory, as detailed on the official GW2 website. I'd read that a while back but I'd forgotten until I went there today to borrow it for this blog just how brave and bold a claim ArenaNet were making. No wonder some folks have been expecting so much. And no wonder some are already feeling disappointed or let-down even before the game's been given an official release date.

One of the many things I liked about this Beta weekend was the pop-up window that appeared every time an Event completed. The last question on the form was always something along the lines of "How much did this event change the world?" On a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (I don't think we're in Kansas anymore) Usually I had to give a "1". I couldn't see any changes.

That's not to say there were no changes. The form just appeared far too quickly after the event for me to tell. I joined an event, victory conditions were given in the top right corner of the screen, they were either met or missed, I got a grade on my contribution (Bronze, Silver or Gold), some xp, some Karma, some cash. I got a reward regardless of whether we won or lost and the size of the reward seemed to relate more to the size of my contribution than the success of the operation.

Whether the world changed I would only know if I stuck around to see. Mostly I moved on almost immediately. When I did hang about or passed by later on I would frequently see the same event again. And again. In the Charr starter area the Fire Shaman, Tar Goo, Venerable Skale and Workshop Attack events played out as though on a continuous loop. Farther out as I criss-crossed the level 15 - 25 area the same events flipped on and off my screen countless times.

GW2 has a much more immersive way of letting you know something's going down than just flashing up a quest box, though. Wherever you go NPCs charge up to you, grab you by the shoulder-guards and yell in your face.

 " SOMETHING BAD is happening RIGHT NOW! YOU need to DO SOMETHING about it! Yes YOU!! "

This is great in theory but in practice I soon began to react to these hysterics as I might to a particularly obnoxious chugger on the high street, with a glower and a shrug. I helped last time. And the time before that. Don't you remember asking me? Find someone else pal, it's not my problem!

Traveling far and wide across the map I was importuned every time I came close to any kind of population center. Just to use a public road was to be pounced on repeatedly to clear mines (don't I need training for that?), escort caravans or collect eggs. It's no wonder i spent so much of the weekend out in the wilderness - it's the only place i could get any peace!

I loved it, really. It seemed an ideal compromise between static and dynamic environments. Often I allowed myself to be distracted from what I'd meant to do, instead finding myself collecting worm eggs from very unwilling worms for the Meatoberfest (it's a Charr thing - you really don't want to know) or holding off harpies while a crazed veteran launched live cows into the sky. More of that anon.

How much any of this changed the world even short-term I find it hard to say but one very definite and meaningful effect I did notice was the loss of use of certain Waypoints. Waypoints in GW2 are instant teleports. You have to visit each one in person the first time to open it up, a mechanism I love, but thereafter you can use all the ones you've opened just by clicking on your map and paying a fee. Several times when I wanted to return to one that I'd opened I found it marked "Contested" on the map, making it unusable.

The Waypoint in a fortified town in Diessa Plateau was "Contested" more often than it was open. For a long time a Giant was stomping around inside staging his own one-giant raid. After he left the town came under attack by separatists. Whether the latter event was a consequence of the conclusion of the former I have no idea, but either way the town was largely out of action for most of the day.

In another example, a road I'd traveled safely once was impassable the second time because Jotun were holding a key bridge. I cleared them off with the help of the Lionguard and rendered the road useable again. That I was able to do alone, while the events with the giant and the separatists didn't seem to scale down at all regardless of there being very few players attempting to deal with them.

I think it will be impossible to tell how significant this "dynamism" is until the game is Live and we are able to live in the world. At the moment all we see are snapshots. The prospect of not knowing when you log in whether you will be able to go to the same place you were hunting yesterday is appealing and I can see now how this could happen. I hope it does. If it leaves places people want to go in a state that prevents them from going there without letting them do much about it, though, that might not be quite as much fun.

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