Category Archives: Crystal Ball

Guild Wars 2 – Heart of Thorns speculation

I assume most of you have heard about “Heart of Thorns” by now. I will try to keep this mostly spoiler-free, but if you haven’t played the latest story bit, you will at least not want to click on the play button of the video. Other than that, I’m not mentioning the latest story bits in this post.

We will get to hear more – or anything other than the title “Heart of Thorns” – on January 24 (either at PAX or online on Twitch). Until then, there’s not much left for us to do than speculate. I guess in my case, it’s not so much speculation as rather a whole lot of wishful thinking. :p

Who here remembers World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm? In case you have no idea what that was, it is their third expansion. And not just any expansion. In the beginning when the game launched, there were two continents (Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms). With time, new zones, raids, instances etc. were added. Every bit of that also added story and continued the world’s timeline. But the old zones remained mostly static and stayed in its original time. So, if something big happened with the introduction of a new zone, this mostly did not reflect on the old ones. NPCs were still going around their daily routines just as if time stood still. Quests you did there stayed the same and were set “before” whatever happened in a new zone. Cataclysm changed that. Not only did the whole world get changed in appearance, Blizzard also used this opportunity to bring all zones to present time. No more confusing “this zone was here before the other zone, so what happens here is actually taking place 2 years before what happens in that other zone”. For one short moment, it felt like Azeroth was “alive”. It changed and evolved.

With the Living Story in Guild Wars 2, we have already seen something like this. Lion’s Arch got destroyed and is now slowly getting rebuild (look here for several screenshot galleries of the old, intermediate and destroyed Lion’s Arch). At the same time, however, when we do a Personal Story part that takes place in Lion’s Arch, we get to see the present time Lion’s Arch and not the old one anymore (this is due to technical limitations, actually, which doesn’t make it easy for them to have the new LA present as a map and an old LA present for when you enter that zone for your personal story). This makes it quite confusing, but it also shows that ArenaNet is dedicated more to the living story and the world evolving than in keeping the personal story in its own time frame.

Now wouldn’t an expansion (I am certain that this is what “Heart of Thorns” is going to be) be the perfect opportunity for ArenaNet to bring all zones to the current time again? Again, I don’t think personal story – which can’t just be brought to the current time – is a limiting factor for ArenaNet, as can be seen with story bits taking place on the Lion’s Arch map.

Lion’s Arch (and parts of other maps) has been changed already, but other parts of the world haven’t been. NPCs are still concerned about Zhaitan, even though we already killed him. Scarlet came and left. ArenaNet could bring the whole world to a post-Scarlet state including new dynamic events everywhere which would make the whole “old world” much more interesting again for those of us who have seen everything by now anyway. They could change all NPCs accordingly, so the stories, concerns, thoughts reflect what has happened in the last 2,5 years. I think this would definitely make the game world feel much more alive than it currently does.

Other than that, I guess I am hoping for “the usual” that other MMOs offer with their expansions. A new race would be nice, but even though everything seemed to hint at the Tengu in the beginning with them hiding behind their wall near Lion’s Arch, I’m not sure they are still in the focus and I don’t know what other race could become playable. A new profession would be great. I always loved the dervish in Guild Wars (I started with Nightfall, after all) and would love to see something similar in style in Guild Wars 2. But even though I am wishing for a new profession, I do not think we will get one, to be honest. Instead, I think we will rather get new weapons for existing professions. Maybe even only already existing weapons – I have wanted my mesmer to be able to dual-wield pistols from the very beginning. And why can’t my engineer wield a hammer or a spanner? New weapons for the professions or existing ones but new to that specific profession, I don’t really care. I just want more choices! :)

I am also expecting them to deliver guild halls. This is a feature that’s been asked for even before launch. I don’t know what they will include or what we’re going to be able to do there, but there you go. Guild halls! :p I would love to see housing, but to be honest, I don’t think we will ever see it in Guild Wars 2. It just doesn’t really seem to fit the direction they are going with the game.

 More legendary weapons is another thing I would love to see (mostly because I don’t like any of the current ones enough to get into the grind). But again, I am not sure this is their focus now.

In the end, I think the expansion will mostly be about new zones and more living story. I like to keep my expectations low, so that I won’t be easily disappointed. Anyway, we will know more soon! Less than a week from now.

GW2: Will it really lack endgame?

Update July 13, 2012: There’s an interview on with Eric Flannum and Colin Johanson where they’re talking about endgame in Guild Wars 2. :)

I have seen several people talk about whether Guild Wars 2 has an endgame and whether it needs one. Some articles/discussions are a bit older, others are newer.

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.

Guild Wars 2 and its server transfers

We still don’t know every detail about this. Although maybe there’ll be more now in the Reddit interview that Mike Ferguson does… right now? Anyway, have a look at the latest ArenaNet blog post or just read the next paragraph about server transfers here:

Some of our more astute fans asked about the complications involved with switching servers and how it would interact with world bonuses. Every account has a home server where your characters are created. You can only fight for your home world in WvW. You can visit other servers, and while you are visiting, you still get the world bonus from your home world instead of the bonus for the world you are visiting. If you switch your home server, you lose the bonus from your previous home world and are not eligible for the bonus for your new server at least until the beginning of the next battle for the Mists. We may extend this disqualification into the next match or possibly even longer to discourage people from switching servers right before a battle ends in order to get an awesome bonus. You will have to pay a fee to change your home server (price undetermined), and that will also discourage people from server hopping to chase world bonuses.

For Germans’ convenience, I’m going to translate this, as I haven’t seen a translation yet. Scroll down to continue reading my English ramblings. ;)

Einige unserer gerisseneren Fans haben Fragen zu den Komplikationen gestellt, die mit dem Wechseln von Servern einhergehen werden, und gefragt, wie diese mit den Weltenboni interagieren werden. Jeder Account hat einen Heimat-Server, auf dem eure Charaktere kreiert werden. Ihr könnt nur für eure Heimatwelt im WvW kämpfen. Ihr könnt andere Server besuchen und während ihr sie besucht, bekommt ihr immer noch die Weltenboni eurer Heimatwelt statt der Weltenboni der Welt, die ihr gerade besucht. Wenn ihr euren Heimatserver wechselt, verliert ihr den Bonus eurer vorherigen Heimatwelt und seid mindestens bis zum Start des nächsten Kampfes in den Nebeln [oder wie auch immer “battle for the mists” übersetzt werden würde] nicht für den Bonus eures neuen Servers berechtigt. Eventuell werden wir die Disqualifikation noch bis ins nächste Match verlängern oder sogar noch länger, damit die Spieler nicht direkt vor Ende eines Kampfes den Server wechseln, um den tollen Bonus zu kassieren. Ihr werdet etwas bezahlen müssen, um euren Heimatserver zu wechseln (der Preis ist noch nicht festgelegt), und das wird die Spieler auch davon abhalten, ständig Serverhopping zu betreiben, um die Weltenboni zu jagen.


So, what do we now know?

You will not be able to switch and play WvW on other servers unless you pay a fee. I assume the “fee” will be a real money one. Since all characters always belong to one home server, you’ll switch with all characters once you pay your fee. That is different to games like World of Warcraft, Lotro or Warhammer Online which always ask you to pay a fee for each character you want to transfer.

Yes, it will be possible to play with your friends in PvE because you can switch freely (or, as they call it “visit”) between servers for PvE purposes. So, if you only care about playing with your friends in PvE, you will not have to pay a fee at all in order to switch. Although there is the question of what “visiting a server” entails. Does it also mean belonging to their guild?

You cannot have characters on the same account play in WvW on different servers as all characters belong to one home server and this one home server is the one for which you can fight in WvW.

I assume that this also means that names will be universal (as bookahnerk also assumed a few months ago) like it is now in Guild Wars. At least, it’d make the transitions easier. Or can you imagine how annoying it’d be to have to rename your character whenever you want to play PvE on another server? What will it be like with guild names, though? Are they global as well? And will the guild and its name belong to only the guild leader? What if they go server-hopping? Will the guild go with them then?

What’s also still unknown is if we can switch freely between different regions (EU German, EU English and/or EU French servers, for example). Also, will we be able to play on US and EU servers? Or will we be restricted to our own region? And next up: Will there be region locks? ;) <– I'll just assume there won't be because they haven't done it in Guild Wars and I don't see any reason why they should change that now.

Guild Wars: Character slots, naming rules and their possible transition

When I try to imagine how the naming rules, server architecture, guild limitations and the character slots may be handled in Guild Wars 2 I always reach the point where I have to take into account how it was implemented in Guild Wars, why it may have been done like that and what the benefits of their decisions were. Especially the ones that they apparently want to keep. As an outsider my ideas and guesses are only that. Thus, I would love to read any deeper thoughts or other conclusions and ideas you may come up with!

My guesses put on the table simple, short, rough and maybe a little provocative are:
– Character slots will again be limited per account (not per server) but every character will be listed with its current home server.
– Naming rules are global and unique like in Guild Wars, but this time one word names are also possible.
– The basic game will be delivered with 3-5 character slots, the collector’s edition with 5-8.

If you are now sitting there nodding or shaking your head, rest assured that I can understand both reactions and sometimes have them about my own thoughts, too. Especially when I start listening to the two most extreme oppositional views in my head. ;)

One being overly optimistic, high of anticipation and delusional that Guild Wars 2 does not have to create an income for ArenaNet, dreaming of a world not limited by technical and financial boundaries. The other one being absolutely skeptical and mischievous knowing that there are as good as no companies which would say nay to the highest possible income for the least possible effort.

Please note that in the case of ArenaNet I still slightly tend to listen to the first one. Of all the companies on my personal radar they are the one I have the most confidence in that I will get what I will pay for. The other way around, they very rarely disappointed me. And when they did, there were always fast corrections or transparent explanations I could live with.

It’s my belief that one of the most basic decisions ArenaNet had to make for Guild Wars was how their server network should work to split and balance the possible load. Especially considering the financial and technical challenges an MMO meant at that time. As a result that decision directly influenced what kind of game world would be easier to implement and what limitations came along. I’ll take their decision for an “easier scalable and extendable massive instanced world with the layering in the outposts where many people could meet” as a given and compare some of its aspects to the “persistent world with massive amounts of players in the area simultaneously” to which Guild Wars 2 will belong to.

While with Guild Wars ArenaNet chose the very limiting way for their players in their world, some details show that nevertheless a global approach was important to them and still is. Most other games which are structured in “servers” come with capsuled parallel worlds. Each one with its own economy, own community and your character exclusively bound to one. ArenaNet instead decided to manage your character slots and the in-game NPC market in a global database. So you can log in with each character into any region you want, have the same NPC prices in all of them and can meet your trade partners worldwide.

In GW2 again, at least the new in game trade system will be not limited to your server (exact details and if it has any global or regional limits remain to be announced). While I do like being able to trade in all the regions of GW1 and love to never feel stuck at a server where economy or community sucks, it’s not made that way only for the good of the player. A heavily instanced game world compared to a cohesive one with its many simultaneous players, is so much easier to handle and to spread between an on demand expandable amount of servers. Managing the character slots globally also has the nice side effect for ArenaNet that they are able to sell additional slots sooner instead of letting us use up all unlocked character slots on every single server. While I wouldn’t mind it that much (because for me the lack of a monthly fee makes more than up for that), that’s my main argument why I do see them wanting to keep the globally managed character slots and technically simply add your server choice as one additional variable to each character slot.

Besides the fact that GW1 characters are managed worldwide and you can possibly meet any other player there are no server names to tag onto your name. ArenaNet came up with slightly different but essential limitations to how you can name you characters to avoid ambiguities. While they decided to rule out one word names, you are allowed to use multiple spaces to create your globally unique character name. What sounds trivial and enabled realistic combinations of for- and surname, titles or even seldomly considered foreign names, at the same time opened up the Pandora’s box of “creative” and odd combinations to integrate your overused popular or already taken names. But rating names or creativity should not be my focus in this post. Unique naming per server, region or even globally on the other hand is. Especially when taking into account the announced easy to execute server transfers in the upcoming Guild Wars 2.

Unique global naming would avoid one of the most frustrating aspects players may be confronted with (besides possible fees) when they want to switch servers or when servers are merged. Imagine the name you feel you have established yourself with and may be famous for is already taken on the target server. Maybe by a low level banking alt or someone not even playing anymore. While that dilemma is avoidable and my thoughts about globally managed character slots should explain why I see them keeping the global and unique naming too, I still owe you an explanation why single word names may have their introduction. I do not see a technical issue to rule them out, the shown demos of GW2 on this year’s exhibitions are still allowing them and I would consider it as a tribute to the e-sport orientation of their tournament PvP part and the habit gamers may have formed in other games. Short and single word names are much easier to recognize and so to build “e-fame” with.

Colin Johanson previously stated that there will be more than two character slots. Based on the foundation I argued till now it’s not that difficult to follow my train of thoughts why there will only be 3-8 character slots coming with the retail boxes (or download versions). As I just wrote, we know there will be more than just two slots. Also in many interviews it was stated that we should not run into limitations that fast. Well, considering that I am an altoholic and have too many stupid character names I come up with, my initial guess should be of at least 20 slots. ;) But thinking about ArenaNet, Guild Wars and the lack of a subscription I have to cut back to a maximum of five or eight slots, depending on the version (standard box, collector’s edition etc.). As a side note why I differentiate between normal and collector’s edition: Till now nothing is known about the content of a CE. But what would be cheaper for ArenaNet than some digital content (which they would love to sell us either way) additionally to physical goodies. So why not justifying a hopefully reasonable pricing of a CE this way and collecting some of the money directly at release which they would otherwise acquire over the next months, years or never?

Back to the still not argued number of five and eight slots. You all know them well. There will be five races and eight classes in the game when it launches. My simple assumption is that they want us to enjoy the game and give us either access to each of the races or to each of the classes or – on the other hand – deny us “full access” as an incentive to pay for character slots. If you want you can use that thought and observe the release of the game. The amount of character slots included at release could be taken as an indicator of how aggressive ArenaNet will be with their shop and how they will limit your content until you pay.

Imagining me buying the basic edition I may be satisfied with three slots but I am sure I would feel very limited by not even being able to play the five different races with their own story from start to end as one of them. Yes, it is possible to venture through the story of another race if you join a friend who plays that race. But for me that’s not the same, especially considering the effort it would take to coordinate. With five slots I guess I have to be happy. ArenaNet for sure wants to earn at least some money and buying slots to play every class I consider as tribute I will have to spend for playing their game without a monthly fee. Let me switch to imagining myself with a collector’s edition in my hands and that is what I actually want to buy. Now I have to raise my expectations. Being able to play all five races “out of the box” I definitely want to see as a given. While they may not use the mentioned opportunity to add digital content to increase the value of the CE I would feel a little unsatisfied if I didn’t get eight slots. In the end, I see a CE as a product for fans of the game, its lore and the world itself, so with less than eight slots I may have the feeling not to have bought the complete game. No, logging into the shop later that day/week/month to additionally buy some slots would not feel the same.

Allow me to use my fixation on the CE to dwell a little in thoughts about the recently announced collector’s editions of Star Wars: The Old Republic and Skyrim. Why exactly those two? Simply because they not only pushed the pricing a little. No, they nearly doubled the amount most of us were used to. How did they argue that? Ah well, I better leave that to the fans who I absolutely wish to have a lot of fun in those games but at the same time I impute them to see the value of their purchase through rose-colored glasses. I hope that ArenaNet keeps up the spirit they often recite that they do want to deliver content that literally earns them our money. So I would love to see a reasonable CE with stuff like the astonishing soundtrack, a book about the world and lore (an art-book would be nice too, but that’s already separately purchasable in their store) and a detailed artsy map of the world. If they want to absolutely stun me, the map would be made of cloth and “Destiny’s Edge” would be included as detailed figurines or a diorama. All that while having the price still capped at 80 $/€. To justify a pricing above that in my opinion there would have to be a fine selection of useful and valuable digital content (*hints at the 8 character slots*). But only to mention, I recommend avoiding content that cannot be acquired later (like the merchant that SW:TOR added) – in my opinion just to raise the pressure to buy the physical CE before it may be “gone” or you lack something that possibly reveals itself as a necessity later on.

Future announcements and further details may show the one or other error in my thoughts and there is a good possibility that I have to rethink some details of my statements or have to define them more accurately. But I guess that’s the risk about making things up in my mind, jumping to conclusions and blogging about them. ;)