Blog Carnival: On the edge of diversity

This posting is part of GuildMag’s third blog carnival. Unlike most of the previous postings, we wrote this post together (with the exception of our impressions from ArenaNet at GamesCom which we wrote in just the same way).

Something that annoyed us greatly in the Eligium beta was that we couldn’t choose the look of our characters. All you could choose – look-wise – was the race and the gender. Nothing to set you visually apart from everybody else. We all looked like clones. In World of Warcraft, people also complained about everybody choosing only the “pretty face” (it’s the 3rd picture in the link, by the way ^^) for the female trolls (and there weren’t that many who played female trolls to begin with) which resulted in lots of them looking very similar (there was also one particular hairstyle that was most popular which didn’t help at all). Or think about how players rage when a developer “nerfs” content, so more people can successfully beat it. Some of those who have done the content before the nerf are usually among those complaining. But why? Because now everybody can try and conquer the content and then get the same achievement. Those who have done so before don’t get this achievement taken away from them but it means one less thing to set them apart from everybody else. Something less to brag about, maybe.

In other words: We want to be “special snowflakes”. We want to have something that makes us different from others. In games where choices and diversity are naturally always limited, this seems to be a rather important issue. How can you then set yourself apart from others in Guild Wars 2? What will be in the game that shows its diversity and doesn’t make us feel like we’re taking part in “Attack of the Clones”? Let’s have a look at some aspects!

Guild Wars 2 won’t have the traditional raiding endgame. So we will most likely not be able to show off our great raid equipment and we won’t be able to set ourselves apart from the masses by having some super rare item that drops from the latest boss. Stats can be taken off armor, though, and you can put those stats on another armor piece. So, why should we bother all wearing the best raid equipment that drops (which, if you ask me, doesn’t actually stand for “diversity” so much as for “bragging rights”)? Instead, we have the whole wardrobe that the designers created to choose from. And with that come dyes. Lots and lots of dyes! You will be able to choose up to three colours for each of your armor pieces. In other words, if you want, you can imitate a walking Easter egg! If you want to have a look at some of the known armor in the game, head over to Hunter’s Insight for some pictures from the beta.

We know character customization will have options like statue and size. It won’t be as extensive as Aion, but that might not be so bad. You can make all sorts of weird looking characters in Aion. It just wouldn’t work in Guild Wars 2 if you want to recognise a human as a human. And who wants to play with a 2 meters large asura? ;)

One rather fascinating fact is that in World vs. World, you will not be able to see your enemy’s name (an explanation why they decided for that can be found here). They will be anonymous to you. While this may take away some fame (being known and feared “on the other side” for being a great PvPer), it will also mean that you will have to be more creative. Show off your fashion sense and impress the other side with skill and style! They will still not know your name, but you might be “Mr Turquoise-Purple R0xx0r” or whatever else for them.

Just like in many other MMOs, you can try out a rare class/race combination if you want to set yourself apart from other players. From what we’ve seen so far, it seems that asura warriors will be quite rare. As will be female asura and female charr. If you want to have a look yourself – or enter your own dream combination, have a look at GW2Census.

Speaking of races, there are the racial skills that set your race choice apart from others. Let’s take the asura warrior from above who can call a Golem Battlesuit that everybody can use. Other races will have different skills, so only asura can use this particular skill. ArenaNet said that they will be weaker than the class’s skills and you won’t be able to use them in structured PvP. The question is whether those skills will be strong enough so people feel that they’re useful… and, as always, there is the big question how open the game’s community will be towards skills that are “less than optimal”. Because, let’s face it, gamers have a tendency to favor the so-called cookie cutter builds. We’ve seen our fair share of people complaining when another player didn’t have the optimal build because while having it didn’t guarantee good fights, it at least made it more likely that even bad players can play their class adequately (please note that this isn’t our opinion. We’re just stating what we saw others write and use as arguments…).

There will very likely be a lot of combinations of skills to use for each class and lots of situations where, hopefully, different builds will be useful. But how viable will the community think they will be? How tolerant will they be towards people experimenting with builds? How often will they tolerate a “wipe” because somebody wanted to try out something? How many people will be as lucky as we were back in Burning Crusade (World of Warcraft) when our raid leader let Paeroka raid with her frost mage (*gasp*) who had a hybrid PvP-PvE spec (*faints*) because while she didn’t top the DPS charts, she knew how to play her class and almost never died even when half the raid was dead after a boss fight?

So, how much will we be able to enjoy the freedom and diversity that ArenaNet hands us? How tolerant will the gaming community be towards people trying to find their own niche in the game? ArenaNet certainly seems to be about building an inclusive community.

The worst case would be a trade-off for pure efficiency regardless of fun if that means you can kill a mob (be that a boss in a dungeon, in open world or other players in PvP) faster than without the most efficient build.

Guild Wars 2 seems to go in a direction where the player is in the center (no tanks, no healers means there are no required classes, after all… “bring the player, not the class! V2.0”). This will bring diversity in itself. But only if we, the players, accept that not everybody likes playing their character in exactly the same way that we think is the best. Not to mention that some players perform a lot better with a build they’re comfortable with even if it’s not the optimized one. If ArenaNet does their job well, there will not be a single “best build”. But we need to accept that a playstyle that deals 1% less damage is still a great playstyle if it means that the player is having more fun this way.

ArenaNet delivers the tools but in the end, the fate of diversity is in our hands.