Update July 13, 2012: There’s an interview on Twitch.tv with Eric Flannum and Colin Johanson where they’re talking about endgame in Guild Wars 2. :)
Let me toss in my opinion and thoughts as well. First, I should clarify what I mean when I say “endgame”, that is, which definition I am going to use here now. I will ignore the PvP part of “endgame” because the discussions usually do not revolve around the PvP part but they are instead concerned about the PvE part. ArenaNet also treats those two areas differently as structured PvP, for example, does not even let you play with a low level character and you immediately start with your character being max level and having access to everything (traits, gear,…). As I said, PvE is different. Let’s say “endgame” means “doing something differently than what you are doing while levelling up”. If that is the case, then I guess Guild Wars 2 really is lacking “endgame”.
What we have in the PvE area are dungeons (story and explorable mode), events/dynamic events and meta events. All of which can be done at low levels already. Events can be soloable (while scaling up when more players are around) or specifically designed for groups which make them very hard to solo. What Guild Wars 2 does not have is raids, at least not in the “traditional” sense as we know them from World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic. Those raids are typically seen as “endgame”: You level up to max level, and once there, you collect proper equipment, join 9 to 39 other players (numbers are arbitrarily taking from what it took and now takes to raid in World of Warcraft) and head into an instanced area where your group can fight against certain boss monsters. Since those raids take place in instanced areas, only you and your group can fight. It is basically a very structured environment. It is “save” in a way that no random person can join whenever they feel like it. You – or the raid leader, at least – decide who gets to go with you, which classes you take, which equipment level you allow in your group – by not taking those with lower equipment with you – and which skill level those players that you take have. Typically, you are connected through voice-chat and can direct tactics and strategies that way. If this controlled environment is the only thing you want to experience as “endgame”, then Guild Wars 2 will be disappointing for you. It will not have raids. The closest it has is dungeons for a maximum of 5 players.
One complaint about MMOs that I have seen several times is that the game worlds’ importance in MMOs is constantly diminishing. Once players have reached the maximum level, they disappear from the general game world and spend their time idling in the cities instead while waiting for the dungeon finders to put them in dungeon groups or they’re waiting for raids to start where, again, they disappear into instanced areas. The areas outside get abandoned because players are focusing on the “endgame” which means they are either preparing for raids by farming dungeons for better gear or they are participating in raids where, again, they’re often farming gear (some play for the fun of it, of course ^^). In this aspect, Guild Wars 2 does things differently. For one, you can visit the lower level areas because you’re automatically down-leveled when entering them which will probably keep the whole world interesting even at max level. But that’s another topic. The other thing is that while there are dungeons (and structured PvP which is instanced as well) in Guild Wars 2, they are not required for getting the best gear. You either do them because they are fun or you don’t do them. At the same time, with the lack of instanced raids, we can hope that the game world will see a higher population.
Without raids and without the requirement of farming gear, what will players do at max level? Basically, it’s the same that you’re doing while leveling up: Dungeons, events, the personal storyline (until it’s finished, of course), etc. I would assume – this is guessing, after all, as the game is not released yet – that dungeons and events will be the main attraction for people in PvE at max level. In my opinion, events is where the potential for long-term motivation in PvE can be found. And this is where I say that the success all depends on the game’s design and it leads to a few questions that are left (mostly) unanswered so far:
How good will the scaling be? The Wiki says that the “regular” events scale for up to 10 players which would probably mean that a group of 20 players will rush through them easily. The more difficult events, however, scale up to 100 players. Let’s say we’ve got a good organized group (together with whoever else is in the area and joins). How many events will be trivial for organized groups and how easy will it be to find the more difficult encounters?
Will those events have a satisfying complexity? How about the general difficulty (tied in with the “scaling” above)? How about certain strategies? I have always found boss fights with the “tank and spank” strategy to be very boring. It would be equally boring if the fights in Guild Wars 2 were all about trying to stay alive yourself while dealing damage.
This is what I have mostly done when I played Guild Wars 2. I paid attention to myself and my needs, tried to stay alive and deal damage and if I used a combo it was by accident and usually not planned. ;) Then again, no matter how we look at it, we are all still new to the game and have not played PvE in the high level areas. I would guess that most of us have seen what combos are but at least in my case, I have not yet memorized every detail about it and until I have, I will not be able to use combos efficiently. But I certainly do hope – and expect to a certain extent – combos to be very helpful and maybe even required in some cases in order to be successful during events. This is one aspect where we can see professions interacting with each other. We do not have healers or tanks anymore and while I think this is a great change, it also means that we should see having to interact in other parts of combat or else we would just be lots of solo players all doing our own thing while seeing the boss’s hitpoints go lower and lower. And that would be boring. I want support and combos to be required and timing to be essential because that will be part of the challenge. That, and, of course, interesting boss mechanics that require us to do more than trying to stay alive while damaging the boss (like the Shadow Behemoth where you need to destroy portals that appear).
For me, the big question is: How do the events work at max level? How complex will the fights be in general and how much strategy will they require? It probably won’t be easy to find that balance between being too boring and being too difficult, especially as every player in the region will be able to join the fights and we will not always have that controlled environment where everybody listens to the raid leader and does exactly what they are told to do. If strategy is required and if they find this balance, then I am sure we are in for a treat and I, personally, will not miss those old raids at all. For me, interesting endgame in Guild Wars 2 is not “doing what we have not done at lower levels” but it is “being challenged in group-type settings”.
All things considered, I would answer my question with: “Yes, it does have endgame, but it is different from the endgame we know from games like World of Warcraft”. If you ask whether the endgame will be good in general and, also important, good enough to keep us interested in the game for a longer time, then I would say that it probably still is a bit too early to answer that one. We have not seen those areas yet to properly judge this aspect of the game and either praise or doom Guild Wars 2’s endgame. Soon, however, we will be.