What? You thought that just because we finished posting our cover story online that we couldn't possibly have more details on Guild Wars 2? You couldn't be farther from the truth! How about the fact that Lead Game Designer Eric Flannum told us, "We get inspiration from movies too, books, everything. It's always looking all over the place to gain inspiration." Even YouTube? "Yeah, YouTube." Bam! Just like that, you've got even more GW2 nuggets in the brainpan. Let's just hope that the Lincoln Park rapist doesn't find his way into one of the dungeons.
With every decision ArenaNet makes, the judgment leans on the side of player forgiveness. That's not to say GW2 is aiming to be easier than other MMOs, though certain aspects seem like they will be easier, it's just that when it comes down to it, Flannum says, they're looking to make a game that's "more outright fun." From the roles you'll assume, to the dungeons you'll brave, to the NPCs you'll interact with, ArenaNet's flexible design diminishes barriers in an effort to empower players to play how they want to play.
To explain how blurry the lines of class distinction can become during a fight, Flannum tells a story from play testing: "Players are capable of taking care of themselves and filling different roles... For example, there was a time when one of the dungeons when we were play testing it, a couple of the other designers and I were going through and we had a group consisting of two Warriors and a Ranger, and we were going through and we were actually supposed to have five people, but we couldn't get a group together so we ended up with three. We fought this boss encounter that was a little overbalanced at the time where it was, this is why we test things. But we ended up getting through the boss encounter when groups of five people couldn't. We did it through really smart use of our abilities. The other two designers were very good players. I'm not going to say I'm a good player--I mostly got through by playing with them. So what we ended up doing was we had this system where I was the human specced as a Warrior to do ranged damage and had a bow and rifle, and the Ranger was speced to do range damage. And we had this one Warrior who would do things like he would get attention of the bad guys, try to kite them by hamstringing them. I would use barrage to cripple them, and then we would basically try to keep their attention, ping-ponging between the three of us, and none of us were obviously support-oriented, but we were able to use all the tools we had at our disposable in order to win the fight... We had to recognize when the Ranger, who was a little bit squishier, had gotten the attention of the boss, and we had to recognize that 'Ok now the Ranger is going to get his attention, the Ranger might even go down, and it's up to one of the Warriors to grab his attention away when the Ranger goes down, the other Warrior can go resurrect him.' What ends up happening is you get these things were you don't have these really rigid group dynamics where you go into it 'You are the tank, I am the healer.' What ends up happening is that the situation changes moment to moment and you have to react to how the situation is changing, and we hopefully give every player a bunch of tools in their toolbox to react to different situations.
"There's actually a lot of opportunity for individual heroics in the battle" Flannum continues, "because you get the whole 'Ok, everybody except one guy is down now'--that doesn't mean that you're done. That one guy who's left, depending on what profession he is, what skills he has, there's a lot of things that he can do. We've experienced that in our playthroughs. We've had a group of five guys and the last person down manages to pull off super awesome things, like a Warrior with Vengeance [which makes him invulnerable for a short time] will use it to resurrect an ally, and the ally will use the Mist Form [Elementalist ability], which gives him temporarily invulnerability, to go get someone else back up, and so on and so forth. So the idea is that we wanted our game to be about taking risks and about having fun, and not be a game about worrying about making a mistake. We didn't want that like 'Oh crap, if I make a mistake here, our entire group is doomed.' We wanted it to be more like 'Ok I just made a mistake, now how do I redeem that mistake? How do we get out of this bad situation that we got in?'”
For all GW2's weapon swapping and profession ambiguity, Flannum says "It's actually going to be pretty fast relatively, in MMO terms, to get through our game." He says replayability is the key. Because there are so many options in how you approach a situation, parties will be hard pressed to experience the same thing twice. "I don't think we look at one thing being the end game. Again, I think we see that people have different styles of play... we want to provide some end game content for all the different styles of play that we see." Once players have "completed" the game, there is always the opportunity to go back and discover how the other professions play through alts, as well as PvP.
"So, essentially when you get to max level, every event in the game is open to you as potential content for you to play through" Flannum says--even low level dungeons you might not have visited since the start of the game. All dungeon levels are fixed, so whenever you enter a dungeon of a level lower than your own, you will automatically scale down with the appropriate stats and weapon strengths. Even so, high level characters descending into low level dungeons will benefit from being slightly stronger than a first time entrant into the dungeon. For example, a max level character entering a level ten dungeon will be scaled down to the appropriate level including weapons, but the deleveling system will work in the player's favor enough to give them an edge over the content. Flannum told us that players higher level than a dungeon returning to it will be strong enough that good players "could definitely finish the dungeon with less than 5 players."
This will allow you to play with your friends that play the game, no matter how many levels apart your characters are. However, the gear won't change. Flannum also told us, "Rewards will be for the level of the dungeon. That being said, the armor and weapon sets that you can get as rewards for finishing a dungeon are completely unique in appearance so a player of any level might be interested in the dungeon rewards."
If you read the previous two posts (you have been reading them, right?) you're familiar with Story and Explorable Modes, but there are a few things that we learned about them that didn't quite make it into those posts. For starters, Flannum told us that, "The Story Mode is designed to be easier than the Explorable Mode. Explorable is also, as it's name implies... very replayable. One of the things we ran into doing missions, which is very much like this in Guild Wars 1, is that we found that doing a mission multiple times, a lot of story oriented stuff started getting in the way of you having fun. You started, 'Ok, I've seen this cutscene before, skip it.' Pretty soon this culture of skip the cutscene kinda grew up around Guild Wars 1, and so what we wanted to do was to provide people in that first story mode a linear, lots of cutscenes, lots of story going on, lots of exposition, that experience.
"...for the explorable mode it can be a lot more free-form, where you can just jump in and you're dealing with something that doesn't need as much explanation, doesn't have a lot of exposition, doesn't have a lot of cutscenes, and it has a lot of replayability built into it because there are different ways to complete it, or different paths to take. We tried to really vary each of them quite a bit so we actually don't fall into a pattern where it's like 'Well, Explorable is like there's three different paths you can take.' That is true sometimes, but sometimes there's three different ways, or sometimes it's multiple ways, not even three, maybe four ways. Sometimes it branches in the middle, sometimes it branches right at the beginning."
Although Explorable Mode is designed to be replayable and Story Mode is a more linear experience, both can be replayed as many times as you like. "They are not directly contingent upon each other, so whatever you've done in your personal story will not change what happens in the dungeons, or vice versa. But you will get to meet, depending on the branches you pick along your personal story, you may end up meeting some of the same characters, and experience different parts of the same storyline" says Flannum.
While dungeon running is sure to be a big draw, Flannum says the events there "don't tend to spill out into the outside world, and we do that because you're never sure whether or not, again we don't want to force players to do dungeons if they like to do events in the outside world, that sort of thing. Things inside of the dungeons can change quite a bit depending on what you've done, but it doesn't have a direct effect on the outside. The big difference in the dungeons is that...dungeon difficulty is a constant, so it's sorta geared for the players who really want a challenge, who really want to work out 'Hey, this is really a good group build. Let's see if it works in here,' and are looking for that experience of overcoming difficult content through teamwork. And it sort of pushes things to another level where it requires more coordination, where it requires you to work together a little bit better. It's a more challenging experience, it's the same fundamental gameplay, but it emphasises coordination and teamwork even more than other parts of the game."
Unfortunately, Tony Danza is not actually a boss in GW2, but there's always hope for the expansion, right Mr. Flannum? "[No.]" Though GW2 is lacking in the Danza department, veteran players are bound to recognize some of the bosses in the previously described Ascalon Catacombs. Flannum told us that, "In similar ways in the rest of the game, there are a lot of places players will get to go back and see [from the original game]. We showed some of those off at Colgone--Serenty Temple, Temple of the Ages; we're going to go back to the Ruins of Denvary. It's the sort of thing where we saw a really cool opportunity to provide some fan service to players, and show them some of the places they visited [in GW1]... We also wanted to make sure those things were cool for people who were not familiar with the original material as well. Many of the dungeons are locations that were never included in [GW1], and even includes races that are new to the game that players don't know about yet."
Flannum also mentions an anti-griefing precaution they've taken. Although an elementalist can lay down a wall of fire to ignite his allies' arrows, that wall will not ignite incoming enemy arrows. Griefers will have to be a bit more creative than that if they want to exploit these developers' code.
Just as in GW1, loot plays an important part not only in stat modification, but character development. In GW2, that tradition is being expanded by the differences in drops between the Story and Explorable Modes. In Story Mode, you'll receive weapons that are comparable to those on the surface, but have a look unique to the dungeon in which they were found. Flannum provides the following example: "Sorrow's Embrace has a piece that looks very Dredge-like. If players wanted armor that looked like that, or weapons that looked like that, then they would need to go through there, but it's not as if the weapons are vastly more powerful than what you could find [elsewhere]." In Explorable Mode, players will be granted either light, medium, or heavy armor.
As far as the mechanics of the drop system is concerned, Flannum says "It's more of a badge system, so this is something that we did in Guild Wars 1 as well. Our basic philosophy is that you should never complete a piece of content and get something you don't want. So it's going to be the case where you go through and are guaranteed to get a piece of gear that you didn't have before, and that you're going to want." So, you're guaranteed to get a piece of gear every time you do a dungeon? "Yes." Sweet.
More specifically, we were told that weapons will come from story mode (one run = one weapon) and the rest of your armor will be earned from explorable mode.
You already know there's a rag-tag band of adventurers out there who have split up, and you know it's your job to get them back together, but what you don't know is why that matters. Flannum fills in the gaps: "Those are characters that are very important for us. They are kinda the major NPCs of the world, and we wanted to tell their story through the dungeons. Sometimes one or two of them [accompanies you]. Sometimes one of the characters makes a cameo. The idea is that you learn about them slowly. You learn about each of their individual personalities, and why they don't like each other anymore, and how you can fix that. So you kinda have a real character arc for each of them."
Not enough? Here's a quick description of each hero:
It has only been a score of years since the first twelve sylvari awakened from the branches of the Pale Tree; a handful of lives scattered into the world like petals on the wind. These Firstborn were quickly followed by others, more and then more, until the Grove was born in the heart of the Caledon Forest. Caithe was among those first to step upon the earth of Tyria, but where the others turned toward the sun, she sought shadow. While her fellows revel in the beauty and joy the world has to offer, Caithe has never been afraid to gaze into darkness--or to seek truths that others fear.
In his youth, Rytlock wasn't the strongest charr; he wasn't the most inventive or the most skilled. The one thing Rytlock had to his credit was pure, vicious ruthlessness--the dedication of someone who does not know what it means to flinch. His dark sense of humor masks a cunning, careful mind. He has risen quickly through the ranks of the Blood Legion to become a Tribune of great renown. He stands foremost among the soldiers of the Black Citadel, carrying a sword of fire and leading their armies to greatness.
Born in Kryta, raised in Divinity's Reach, Captain Logan Thackeray is a commander in the Seraph guard. They stand guard over their people, defending the last human kingdom; a kingdom that looks to their heroic young Captain for inspiration and hope. Logan has never failed his people, or his Queen Jennah, the last of the Krytan royal line. He fights for her, his loyalty and stalwart courage providing a shield between Kryta and her enemies. Where danger threatens, Logan does not turn away, but faces it with the determination of a man who knows that he is the only thing standing between the thing he loves… and its utter destruction.
One of the most famous heroes among the lodges of the Norn, Eir is an artist and a tactician. She understands the mind of her enemy, how to provoke it, how to encourage it--and how to take advantage of its weakness. With her companion wolf, Garm, she roams the Shiverpeak mountains, searching for meaning within the snow's silence. Eir is a visionary, guided by the Spirits of the Wild to shape beauty and wisdom from rough-hewn stone. She can be found where the winds blow frost over the highest peaks, and the norn tell tales of ancient lore around a fire's glow.
The foremost apprentice of the venerable inventor Snaff, Zojja seeks to live up to her mentor's legacy. Her work with the College of Synergetics has been outstanding, and her intellect is unrivaled even by members of the Arcane Council of Rata Sum, and her ability to multitask across a spectrum of disciplines inspires awe and jealousy among her fellow asura. Too stubborn to turn away from an unbeatable opponent, too tenacious to give up even when failure seems assured, Zojja remains single-minded, driven, and determined. Other asura pity those who stand in her way.
So, about those heroes, do we actually have to work with them? "It's more them moving along with you" says Flannum. "They'll ask you to lead the way sometimes, and you'll head down a path and they'll come along with you. You don't directly control them like heros in Guild Wars 1. They're more free moving, they'll actively engage in combat without you having to tell them to do so, things like that, but they do pause at certain points. In the Explorable Mode they'll stop and ask "Which way shall we go?" and you can pick which way you want to go and decide which paths you want to take, but you're not directly controlling the actions that they take."
Although NPCs may often accompany you and your group, the maximum player character number remains five, which means my "friends" will have to come up with another excuse as to why "the group is full tonight." Flannum says, "We don't have any plans to have any sort of henchmen or anything like that in the game, and so it's true that for the dungeons you're going to need to gather a group together, whether that's a group of people who know each other, or whether it's a pick up group of some kind." What's more, the heroes that do tag along will be slightly weaker than you. Although their stats should be the same as a typical players, their weakness is due mostly to the fact that while a human player will be adaptable in their tactics, while the heroes will more rigidly adhere to their profession norms.
Well, that's all I've got on the game, which, let's be honest, is quite a lot. GW2 is aiming to nail the hardcore MMO feel while supporting an in-built flexibility and forgiveness one might liken, at times, to more casual ventures--it's an eclectic mix that's sure to generate some interesting results. Flannum says "we look to a lot of other games, not just MMOs. You know, our down mechanic is a good example of a mechanic that clearly we gain inspiration from team based shooters like Left 4 Dead, and Borderlands, and things like that. We're constantly looking at other games. We're really big game players. We're all always looking at 'Hey, what other cool stuff are other games in other genres doing?' not only MMOs. We certainly look at other MMOs. It's really about gaining inspiration, and not just ripping that off straight, but seeing how it actually fits in your game with what you're trying to accomplish."
Don't forget to enter our Guild Wars 2 loot contest , and be sure to check back tomorrow for a massive art dump of every shiny image we have from the game that didn't make it into these posts so far, and one final big reveal of Guild Wars' 2 plans for dungeons--and the game as a whole.