What about Guild Wars 2’s endgame*?

Two years ago, in July 2012 – and thus, before Guild Wars 2 was released – there was the usual pre-launch discussion that happens with every MMO: What will the endgame be about? Will the game even have meaningful endgame? I had joined the discussion here in our blog and posted my own thoughts about it.

I figured now is a good time to look at the topic again, as the game has been out for almost two years now, season 1 of the living story has finished and episode 3 of the 2nd season has just started.

“One complaint about MMOs that I have seen several times is that the game worlds’ importance in MMOs is constantly diminishing.”

I had mentioned that and talked about how Guild Wars 2 wants to do it differently. As we have seen by now, they were serious about that and still are. Season 1 added a lot of fights and content in the open world. Most of it was removed again after a while, but some zones were left completely changed (Lion’s Arch is the most prominent example here), and almost every content patch made us go into the open world and experience the content there. Even though the amount of instanced content has increased with the release of season 2, they have also introduced new zone events in several zones and added a new map, so that the open world is anything but deserted!

“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?”

GW2 Marionette fight with guardian
Fighting against the marionette with my guardian

I would say this has been a “hit or miss” so far. Some of the living story events were horrible and some were really good. This is, however, highly subjective here! I, personally, would say that the best one has been the marionette fight. It was a good mix of challenge and it had very interesting mechanics. However, the platforms had the issue of sometimes tossing one single player in who had very slim chances of winning in the given amount of time. A bit more fine-tuning and it would have been an excellent fight, I think, and I would love to see something like this return (again, with fine-tuning and maybe scaling fights on the platform so that if there is only one player, the fight gets easier).

We recently had a long break from the living story releases and every active player consequently experienced the PvE endgame without that part. So let’s look at that: What kind of endgame is there in Guild Wars 2, other than the living story? Once again, just like I did two years ago, I will leave the PvP aside. While I have enjoyed battlegrounds in WoW and scenarios in WAR, I just cannot really get into sPvP that much. I think it’s because it is a lot more competitive in Guild Wars 2, whereas in World of Warcraft it was more “for fun” or even “something to do before my raid starts”. Open world PvP is usually following a zerg. So even if I took PvP into the equation, it would still not be anything I would spend most of my gaming time doing in Guild Wars 2.

I don’t know what other players have been doing during the break from the living season. My personal “problem” is that I don’t enjoy the dungeons too much. Then again, we haven’t exactly gotten a lot of new dungeons anyway and even those players who like them have had to go through the same ones for almost two years now (with the exception of the new Twilight Arbor path). Fractals – the few I have done – seem to be more fun for me. But the person I want to do them with (other than bookahnerk, of course) and me seem to have terrible timing, so that we switched from using whole sentences and explanations on why we can’t make it to just saying “rain check”. It’s more efficient, really. So while I definitely think this is a viable part of the PvE endgame experience, I can’t talk much about what I haven’t really explored in-depth. ;)

The main thing I seem to be doing in Guild Wars 2 and the moments where I have the most fun are two other things: For one, I love screenshotting maps, because I stop to smell the flowers, I take myself out of the game as it is and appreciate what ArenaNet’s artists and world designers have done. The other thing is levelling alts.

I have always been an altoholic in MMOs. In World of Warcraft , I regularly levelled up new alts because we switched servers with our main characters a few times. I did not want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on server transfers as you pay per character! In some MMOs, like Warhammer Online, I never really set on the one main character and had up to three (tanky black orc, goblin shaman or dwarf engineer – a decision that really is harder to make than you would think!). Only in Lord of the Rings Online, I could not get myself to levelling alts. I have never disliked levelling as much as I did in that game! So, playing a game like Guild Wars 2 is great, because alts have never been more fun to level for me. In fact, I actually wish it would take longer to reach maximum level. I have even tried to avoid doing dailies with my thief when I levelled her, so she would be slower.

Anyway, this is part of my personal “endgame”*. I know that by definition, it’s not the endgame – on the contrary, actually – but it is what I have been doing most of my play time in the last few weeks, even during the attacks on Lion’s Arch which I used to get a taste for my thief when trying to decide whether I really wanted to level her.

I am kind of dreading the day when I have levelled all professions to 80, because even though I can still level up other alts, it is a bit boring when you can’t explore anything new about a profession. Even the world is well-known by now as are the events in those maps. I am curious whether ArenaNet will ever let us use different weapons like they once said they may do (still hoping for a pistol/pistol mesmer here …).

GW2 Living Story Season 2 RytlockAnother good side-effect of levelling up my alts is that once they are level 80, I can switch between my characters when I don’t feel like playing my warrior. ArenaNet has also changed the way the living story works with their second season. Previously, you had certain time windows (two or four weeks) in which you could participate in the current content and after that, most of it was gone again. Now you have to log in during a certain time window (two weeks for each episode so far) in order to unlock the content free of charge (it costs gems to unlock otherwise) and then you can play it whenever you want to. You play through the different episodes of the living story on a per character basis now and also get the rewards on a per character basis. This means that with my habit of switching between characters, even when they have reached level 80, I now have more to do and can decide when I want to do that. It is nice and challenging to do the living story with my squishier thief instead of my warrior. Although I am not sure I would want to replay all of the living story with all my characters. Still, it’s nice to have the option!

GW2 Living Story Season 2 Episode 3
Open world event in episode 3

So, having said all of that, what is my résumée about Guild Wars 2’s endgame? As I had predicted back before the game’s launch, it is different from other MMOs. There are still no raids (as instanced areas), but they have added big open world fights where you need coordination, such as the Tequatl one. Unfortunately, dungeons have been mostly ignored and even though I don’t enjoy them much in Guild Wars 2, compared to how much I loved them in World of Warcraft, I would still like to see ArenaNet give them some love. In general, I think the living world is a good concept and keeps us occupied and entertained, especially now as we can replay them whenever we want to, but I still can’t help but feel that the game lacks more options of things to do, such as new dungeons (and more fractals more often!) or maybe some activities to do in the cities (Polymock, anyone?).

But as I said above, this is for me personally. I do wonder… Is Guild Wars 2’s living story enough PvE endgame for the rest of the players?

*”Endgame” is used loosely here and means “the things you do in the game once your main character has reached maximal level”.

Ask Nerdy Bookahs

It’s time for another “Ask Nerdy Bookahs”. We have looked at the questions in the search terms that led people to our blog for which we know we do not have fitting entries and we’re trying to answer those questions now.

Do I need to have played Guild Wars to play Guild Wars 2?

Technically, no. There is nothing holding you back from purchasing Guild Wars 2 and playing it if you don’t own Guild Wars 1. But I assume that this question is not about the technical aspect of setting up an account, entering game codes, etc. but rather about the lore behind it. Guild Wars 2 is based on an established lore, it has a history of more than 250 years (Guild Wars 1 takes place 250 years before Guild Wars 2). There are two (soon three, I assume) novels connecting the story of Guild Wars 1 with Guild Wars 2 (“Ghosts of Ascalon” and “Edge of Destiny”). At the end of Guild Wars 1, there were hints pointing towards the happenings of Guild Wars 2 (sylvari, the awakening of the Elder Dragons, just to name a few).

Having played Guild Wars 1, I cannot say how good or bad Guild Wars 2 is in introducing you to the world and its story. I would say that reading “Edge of Destiny” would be a great starting point. But two of our friends started Guild Wars 2 without having played Guild Wars 1 or having read any of the two novels and neither of them complained, with one exception: They both did not really understand what the “sylvari” are. Reading through the wiki entry that I linked would be a big help there, especially if you decide not to play a sylvari yourself. The other races just aren’t properly introduced to what sylvari are.

Other than that, I think you’re perfectly fine without knowing anything about Guild Wars 1 and the history between those two games. If you still want to be up-to-date on the lore, check the lore videos from Wooden Potatoes. They are a bit fast but brilliant!

How do you gather in Guild Wars 2?

GW2 Mithril Orichalcum Harvesting toolsYou’ll need to get the appropriate gathering tools. Those can be bought from a merchant. There’s one kind for gathering plants, one for chopping wood and one for mining ore. And then there are different “qualities”. The higher the area, the higher the gathering tool needs to be. Fortunately, they are compatible downwards. Copper ore, for example, can be found in the low-level area, but you can buy the highest mining tool and still mine copper with it. The gathering tools have special slots, so you won’t have to replace them with your weapon when you want to gather something. Once you equip those tools, you can finally gather all those items you’re running into. Just be careful when you enter a new area. If you gather “ruined…” items, then that means that your gathering tools are too low-level for that item.

How long does it take to reach endgame in Guild Wars 2?

That depends on what “endgame” is for you. There is structured PvP which basically means PvP in instanced areas (like scenarios in Warhammer Online or battlegrounds in World of Warcraft). sPvP, as it’s often shortened, can be accessed from level 1. Once you’re in sPvP, all characters are level 80 with the same level of equipment and access to all skills, etc. So if all you are interested in is sPvP, then you would not need to level any character at all. Just create one and have fun playing sPvP!

Levelling from 1 to 80 doesn’t take too long, though. And once you’re 80, all areas of the game are open to you. The great thing about the game, however, is that you can always go back to lower level areas where your character is getting downscaled. While you will be a bit stronger than a regular character at the lower level, the areas will still be challenging for you. Speaking of strictly “level 80 content”, there are areas that are designed for level 80 and you probably shouldn’t go there with a much lower level (you’re not getting upscaled in the PvE world, after all).

But as I said, levelling doesn’t take too long. It took me 6 months to reach max level in Lord of the Rings Online and that was with Siege of Mirkwood as the latest expansion. In comparison, it took me about a month to reach level 80 in Guild Wars 2.

Can you play through Guild Wars 2 solo?

Yes and no. You have your “personal storyline” with quests that will lead you to instanced areas and you’ll be the only person in there unless you want to take other players with you. Outside of those, you can play “solo” as in you don’t need to form a party with other players. But the game itself is designed in a way that you will not be completely on your own. You get full experience points and loot for any mob that you’ve hit often enough (that is, more than once usually), no matter how many others have hit the mob as well. In other words: There is no tagging a mob like you know from games like World of Warcraft. You will also have skills that give you and “allies” buffs. “Allies” means friendly players and out in the PvE world, all other players are “friendly players” and will be effected from such buffs, even if you’re not in a party with them. You also get experience points for rezzing other players, so it’s not unusual to have people stop in their track and come over to help you get back up.

There are also events taking place in the world (“group events”) or skill challenges that will be too difficult for just one person alone. So every once in a while, you will need the help of another player if you want to do them. They are not required, though, to advance your character.

To sum it up: Yes, you can play solo and do not need to form a group. But no, you will probably not be alone and fight mobs completely on your own and you will get help from other players more often than you probably do in other MMOs.

How can I take a screenshot with having my character visible?

GW2 Lions Arch Horn
See the horn at the bottom of the picture?

Sorry, but you can’t. Not without workarounds, at least. I seriously do hope they are changing that soon, as it’s very annoying.

One tip: Type “/sleep”, then hide your interface (I’ve rebound the key for hiding/showing the user interface to “#”, by the way, as it is much easier to remember than the default key combination), position the camera accordingly and you can take a screenshot without your character. Unfortunately, this is much more difficult to do with asura than humans, for example. Charr can be tricky as well if you’ve chosen one with long horns.

Can you have more than one character in Guild Wars?

If you buy one campaign in Guild Wars (1), you’ll get 4 character slots: 2 for the account itself, 2 for owning the campaign. Every campaign (there are three campaigns: Prophecies, Factions and Nightfall) adds 2 more character slots leaving you with 8 character slots total. The game has 10 professions which means that if you want to have one character of each profession, you’d have to buy two additional character slots.

Guild Wars 2 comes with 5 character slots and offers 8 different professions. So in order to play all professions, you’d have to buy 3 additional character slots in Guild Wars 2.

Do you have a breath bar in Guild Wars 2?

Nope. Once you get underwater, you will automatically switch your headgear to a breathing apparatus allowing your character to breathe underwater just like she would above. This item works just like other items in that it has stats and you can exchange it in higher levels for items with better stats. But they will all work in letting your character breathe and you will not need to watch any breath bar. Swim and dive for as long as you like!

Why do you want to be a blogger?

Good question. I guess I just like talking and writing. ;) It’s a nice hobby, one I do for fun but not for money. I’ve become part of a community and have met several people who also write about games. It’s just something that I really enjoy doing and if it comes with the benefit of getting to know other people from all over the world, it’s perfect for me.

GW2: Will it really lack endgame?

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. :)

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.

I’m sick of the holy trinity in MMOs…

…no seriously, it bores me to no end. Endgame consists of three parts.
Part 1: Raiding (to get better gear for… more raiding)
Part 2: PvP (to get better gear for… more PvP)
Part 3: Rolling of an alt (to do Part 1 or Part 2)

Okay, I’m not so sick of part 2 because the combat changes depending on which player you’re fighting against. And part 3 can be quite fun. But why is it that MMOs nowadays can only come up with those three all in all? Is there really nothing else out there for people to do?

Don’t get me wrong. I do not say that I don’t want either of those parts in my dream-MMO. I don’t care about raiding but I know others love it and I wouldn’t want to wish away what others love. But I would like to be able to do other stuff that would ideally be just as important (in players’ eyes) and that developers spend time on and where they would deliver more content later on (as in: When an expansion hits, all systems get updates and expansions. Not just new raids, a new class and maybe a new battleground).

I just remembered something that BioWare had said and fortunately, I found the source quite fast: Bioware about SWTOR’s endgame. I quote: “We’re looking at classic [endgame] systems, but we’re also doing something brand new that hasn’t been done in an MMO before. So we’re going to mix those two together.”

This does sound possibly maybe interesting. We know there’ll be raiding. We also know there’ll be PvP. And they’ve previously said that “We really hope that players will go play other classes because otherwise that would be a waste of resources.” What could the “brand new” stuff be? I don’t think I’ve heard anything about it and I’m curious. “Brand new” sounds good, at least.